Sri Lanka Guardian Essays

Sri Lanka: Is 13A Panacea?

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11 mins read

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) spokesman and Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran says that his party has decided to boycott the independence day celebrations this year, as reported in The Island of January 31, 2023. Instead, they will declare it a Black Day and commence a movement towards achieving what they call true freedom. According to him, “Immediately after independence, it was transformed into a majority system under the guise of democracy. That’s why other people living in this country did not get freedom”. What he implies is that the ‘independence’ given was only for the majority Sinhalese, and not for the others (presumably, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, etc., the minority communities). Sumanthiran thinks that even though the  majority Sinhala Buddhist people had been under the impression that they got freedom for many years, they also now feel that they didn’t get any freedom either. So, when the 75th independence day is celebrated, the TNA “will declare it a black day and start a campaign for the country to get its freedom properly”.   

Meanwhile, the Indian news website The Federal reported that the 74th Indian Republic Day was celebrated at the Indian Consulate in Jaffna with a function attended by a large gathering of people including Indians, and  some local Sri Lankans, mainly Tamils, on January 26, 2023. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police took part in the celebration. Consul General, Madurai-born Raakesh Nataraj, mingled with the guests and exchanged greetings. According to The Federal, both Indian Republic Day and Independence day had been regularly observed in Jaffna until the outbreak of the ethnic conflict.

I wondered why our leaders (apparently) never thought of declaring a Sri Lankan Republic Day after the 1972 republican constitution was enacted on May 22nd that year, and the island nation became a republic independent of any links with the British monarchy . 

The truth is that Sumanthiran here, tongue in cheek,is  only hinting at a fresh (a last, hopefully successful, as he probably fancies) attempt at eventually realizing the idea of establishing a separate sovereign state for Tamils (but strategically camouflaged asTamil speaking people to co-opt Muslims into the project) in the (soon to be re-merged?) north and east provinces where respectively Tamils and Muslims form the majority, and the Sinhalese  are now in a thin minority due to ethnic cleansing by the LTTE. Late Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi (1980-84) also talked about solving ‘the problem of the Tamil speaking people’ in these provinces in Sri Lanka, lumping Hindus and Muslims together as Tamil speaking people, in the interest of India’s own traditional expansionist ambitions against its smaller, weaker neighbours.

Sumanthiran is thinking exclusively about freedom for the Tamil minority, whereas the nationalists – the majority Sinhalese and the sensible majority of the Tamil, Muslim and other minority communities – are concerned about freedom for all who make Sri Lanka their home, that is, the Sri Lankan people or nation; they don’t talk about nations based on ethno-cultural identities.  Deliberate disinformation by Eelam lobbyists and parasitic NGOs has turned nationalists into racists, chauvinists, xenophobes, right-wing nationalists, and whatnot in the eyes of the global media. 

Since 1948, all Sinhalese leaders have acted on the basis of the concept of one nation or one country, where the majority Sinhalese, who are the true autochthonous inhabitants of the island, along with the veddahs, were joined by other numerically small groups in the course of history in various contexts, such as trade, war, invasion, travel, and so on. The first prime minister of independent Ceylon D.S. Senanayake, when asked by the Soulbury Commissioners at the end of the 1947 parliamentary elections how many Tamils he wanted in his cabinet, said he didn’t mind even if all the cabinet members were Tamil provided they acted as Ceylonese. No Sinhalese parliamentarian has deviated from this line of thinking. 

On the other hand, Tamil leaders like All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) leader and later founder of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) lawyer G.G. Ponnambalam were different. They adopted an anti-Sinhala racist attitude. They focused on perpetuating the special privileges that the Tamil elite enjoyed under the British. They felt threatened by a system of parliamentary democracy, because they feared that the Sinhalese majority would put an end to their privileged status. It was Ponnambalam who, for years before independence, had been making the absurd 50-50 demand (clamouring for the allocation of 50% of the seats in the  parliament yet to be introduced  for the Sinhalese who were the overwhelming majority of the population, and 50% for all the minority groups). The Soulbury Commissioners rejected that demand with contempt. Another Tamil lawyer who came from Malaysia, S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, founded the Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Tamil State Party/euphemistically in English the Federal Party) in 1949 and the rest is history. Sumanthiran seems to be basically among the latest in this tradition.

 While preparations are being earnestly made by the government for marking an independence that was not granted (a long retired civil servant likens it to a birthday party for a baby that was never born), the 25th anniversary of the devastating LTTE suicide-truck-bomb attack on the Sri Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Tooth Relic) in Kandy fell on January 25, without anyone remembering it. It looks as if the government let it pass without any commemorative observances unlike in previous years. Why? (My sincere apologies to everybody concerned, if I am mistaken in this assumption) Was it in the name of so-called ‘reconciliation’, which has been a not so seriously meant, hollow slogan right from the beginning? Or was it in order to avoid spoiling the national mood for ‘consecrating’ some ostensibly momentous event that is going to coincide with the 75th independence day ceremony? The epoch-making event that Ranil Wickremasinghe wants to celebrate thus, as everybody knows now, is the purported settlement of the alleged Tamil ethnic problem through the full implementation of the controversial 13A (forcibly imposed on Sri Lanka by India, without doubt, in the latter’s exclusive national interest, in 1987). Grown-up Sri Lankans remember how thousands of our patriotic youngsters died in opposing Indian intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, in the second JVP uprising, which occurred in the years 1986-89 during UNP rule. A thirty year civil conflict claimed the lives of thousands of Sri Lanka’s defence forces personnel,  Tamil rebel cadres, and civilians caught in terrorist bomb blasts; the conflict left many more injured. All this was in trying to prevent the certain Balkanization of the country through the 13A. Seven executive presidents from JR Jayawardane to Gotabaya Rajapaksa back-burnered it for a legitimate reason. What are the benefits of a fully implemented 13A that justify such sacrifices of the country’s youth of the previous generation?

Be that as it may, does Ranil Wickremasinghe want to invest this servile surrender to foreign pressure with a sacred quality by having a special Sacred Tooth Relic exposition? It can’t be that he is mocking Sinhalese Buddhist sentiments. True, he was totally rejected by the mainly Buddhist Lankan electorate as a prospective candidate for executive presidency. It could also  be a similar passive-aggressive attack on his part on the pohottuwa alliance (the Sri Lanka Podu Peramuna, the SLPP). He must have been waiting for a chance to take his revenge on the SLPP, which turned itself into his nemesis in the last parliamentary election. But the principal partners of the SLPP, the treacherous Rajapaksas, as it has now become so clear to the betrayed public, were able to do this otherwise commendable thing, by pretending to espouse the popular nationalist cause, merely to hoodwink the masses to win votes. Ranil and the Rajapaksas are partners now. They are not strange bedfellows; they are natural allies. Whatever they are making common cause in achieving, turning the country’s hallowed Sinhala Buddhist cultural heritage into a political football between rival factions of conflicting persuasions is something worse than the Maligawa bombing itself. It does not augur well for the future of our Motherland. It is the last thing that fair-minded patriotic citizens belonging to all communities are likely to take lying down. 

The only thing that people expect Ranil Wicktremasinghe to do at this moment is to focus on rescuing the country from the economic crisis that it is engulfed in, and leave it to the present day youth of the country from all the diverse communities to lawfully, democratically and peacefully usher in the new corruption free Sri Lanka that they want to build. 

When three LTTE suicide cadres drove an explosives laden truck to the Maligawa early on the morning of January 25, 1998, and set it off, it caused massive damage to the building, while killing seventeen innocent worshippers including two two-year old infants and the three suicide bombers. The attack was universally condemned across the civilized world in the sternest terms. It was reported that three times more money was donated by the ordinary people than was necessary for restoring the destroyed parts of the Maligawa, which was completed within two years of the heinous crime. Ranil Wickremasinghe was the leader of the opposition then. Condemning the bombing he said, “Not even in the darkest moments of Sri Lanka’s 2000 year history has such an act of destruction been perpetrated against the very symbol of our civilization and history.” He should know (I am sure he does, for he is a very well-read knowledgeable person) that the Tooth Relic has been a symbol of sovereignty over the island since the 4th century CE when it was brought to Anuradhapura from Dantapuri (modern Puri, Odisha) in India. If he insists on having the Mahanayakes agree to hold a Tooth Relic exposition to give some sort of legitimacy to his controversial move, and if his request is granted by them, then he will appear to mock the sanity of Sri Lankans and the sanctity of this national symbol. 

To my shock, however, I hear that the relic exhibition that Ranil Wickremasinghe proposed, is scheduled to start on March 4, a month after the day of disputed independence. If this incredible piece of information is true, then it means that the two Mahanayakes, the guardians of the Maligawa, (no one is above them in this matter) have agreed to bless the ultimate victory of those who wanted to destroy ‘the symbol of our civilization and history’!

Of course, Ranil Wickremasinghe alone cannot be held responsible for what is now almost a certainty. All the leaders (or most of them) and their mostly inarticulate juniors in parliament  reportedly support the president’s decision. They should share responsibility, too, for what is going to happen. Constitutionally, of course, there appears to be no barrier to the full implementation of 13A. But that is only a technical point, beyond morality. The three pillars of parliamentary democracy are said to be the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The country’s moral values reign over all three. The ethical conduct of the humans who embody the legislative, executive, and judicial powers is imperative for the proper functioning of the democratic system. That is my idea. 

Civil social activist and Vinivida Foundation convener, lawyer Nagananda Kodituwakku argues in a recent video that president Wickremasinghe has no moral right to take that decision, but that it is in accordance with an agreement reached between the Tamil  National Alliance (TNA), the UNP, and the JVP (represented by Anura Dissanayake, now National People’s Power leader) on September 20, 2017. Recently, Anura Dissanayake even appeared on a TNA stage in the north, according to him.

The NPP leaders say that their goal is to bring in a good government that is free from corruption and theft, and that  establishes the rule of law. But that is the main platform on which even UNP’s J.R. Jayawardane fought the 1977 general election, pledging to bring in a Righteous Society (that has to date failed to materialise). The Island newspaper reported (February 2, 2023) that NPP MP Dr Harini Amarasuriya, asked about her party’s stand on Ranil Wickremasinghe’s decision to implement the 13A fully, said she didn’t believe he would do that, because he didn’t do it when he could do it. The NPP also believes that it should be fully implemented, though there was still a debate about this within the party. She told The Island: 

“It has been presented as a solution to the national problem. It is already there in the Constitution and we believe that it should be implemented, but we have a debate whether it could be a tenable solution for the national problem. Our standpoint is that a government with genuine intention of addressing the issues of Tamil people must bring about solutions to the national problem, and we have no faith in other parties, but only the NPP could do that.”

It is not clear how the NPP is going to deal with the 13A issue. But if it is hoping to wangle the support of the Sinhala Buddhist masses while horse-trading with the federalists, Anura’s chances of becoming president will evaporate soon. As he has already apparently indicated that his prime minister will be Sumanthiran (I am not sure of this piece of gossip) in case he becomes president, the voters in the south will be even more sceptical about voting for him. Sumanthiran is the exact opposite of Lakshman Kadirgamar, that the Sinhalese universally loved, and honoured above all other politicians.

To return to Nagananda, he blames former elections commissioner Mahinda Desapriya for conniving at the TNA’s treacherous intentions revealed in its constitution. Desapriya had been given only the Tamil version of the TNA’s constitutional proposals, which he apparently couldn’t read and understand. He hadn’t asked for or they hadn’t given him the English version of the document (which means, according to Nagananda, they didn’t want its contents to be accessible to the Sinhala majority). Nagananda claims that he had some significant parts rendered into English: According to him, the TNA constitution (includes) “…… the right to self determination, the policy of founding an autochthonous Tamil State, Tamil Aru, and an autochthonous Muslim State, Muslim Aru, and thereby seeing the liberation of the political and economic aspects of the Tamil speaking people…….

Note: An absolute guarantee will be given to the right of religion and language of the minority national races that live in the autochthonous Tamil State that will be set up in the Tamil Motherland……..”.

(Incidentally, I do not agree with Nagananda’s explanation of the concept of the independence of the judiciary in this context.)

Now these autochthonous claims for Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka are ludicrous inventions. Authoritative historians (including Professors Karthigesu Indrapala and Kingsley de Silva) have shown that before the 13th century invasion by Magha of Kalinga, there was no Tamil kingdom in the north of Sri Lanka nor a settled Tamil population there. Tamils are the autochthonous inhabitants of Tamil Nadu in the mainland India. As for Muslims in the eastern province, they were settled there by king Senerath of Kandy (1604-1635 CE) as fugitives from Portuguese persecution in the coastal areas that they were occupying. Muslims and Portuguese were rival traders. The Sinhalese king also settled some of these Muslims in the central highlands. Still later the occupying Dutch and British brought Javanese and Malaysian Muslims, thereby adding to the growing Muslim population in Sri Lanka in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Implications of Nagananda’s revelations for the country need not be elaborated. He emphatically says that the ordinary Tamil people he met in Jaffna do not ask for a separate state. They only want to live in one Sri Lanka peaceably with the other communities.

Nagananda believes that the local government elections that are going to be held will not be of any value and that the Anura Dissanayake-led NPP is unlikely to win such a significant victory at imminent local government election. I personally think that the NPP appears to be the front runner, judging by the size of the crowds that attend its rallies (as reported on online media). But do these people know what the party leaders are really committed to, I wonder? There is no stamp of conviction on most faces, though. Most look sceptical of the leaders

We need statesmen/women, not mere politicians. People are fed up with the latter. Anura is not likely to turn out to be a real statesman, even if he gets the chance to do so one day, if he pursues his proven hypocrisy. However, compared to the leading buffoons of the two traditional parties (the UNP and the SLFP/or their ghostly modern reincarnations), Anura Dissanayake would be someone that the people can look towards as an alternative leader, provided he does not forfeit the trust of the majority Sinhala Buddhists in his attempt to win the loyalty of the traditional minority leaders, who will never ever change their spots, though they may change their hunting grounds.

Ranil Wickremasinghe has got his last chance to prove his statesmanship and retrieve his lost popularity and honour. He should not, as default president, abuse his executive powers to implement the long disputed 13A for the time being, but do whatever he can do to address the economic woes of our suffering masses before the current presidency ends. It is hoped that he will use his constitutional powers to achieve that end. Then let him call presidential elections and fight it himself or get his nominee to fight it on the single issue of the all important 13th Amendment, perhaps against a principal rival like Anura Dissanayake. Whoever it is, the next president must have the support of the active, truly educated youth of the country, not the half-wits now in the limelight.

Sri Lanka: Is recolonisation the final solution?- II

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10 mins read

This is the second part of this series. Click here to read the part one

To assert, as Mr Sirimanne does, that “From ancient times the Northern region in the island was a kingdom occupied by Tamils due to its closeness to South India…….. during the reign of King Elara, a Tamil, there was a war between the Sinhalese and Tamil kingdoms…..” is completely wrong. It is a very irresponsible statement. The factual situation is that the young prince Dutugemunu of Magama in the south, after a long military campaign involving a series of hardwon battles, defeated usurper king Elara who had come from India as an invader. There had been no Tamil kingdom in the north or a permanent Tamil population in the north before the 13th century CE, as Professor Kingsley de Silva argues with evidence in his ‘A History of Sri Lanka’ (Penguin Books, London, 2005). Magha of Kalinga’s cataclysmic invasion with a massive army of twenty thousand Kerala and Tamil mercenaries and his ruinous occupation of Lanka for twenty-one years (‘moved thereto by the lust of wealth and power’ as the Mahavansa puts it), laid waste to the kingdom and the religion, and put an end to the achievements of the dry zone- based hydraulic civilization that the Sinhalese kings had built over the centuries. But during Magha’s reign ‘… there dwelt, scattered in the beautiful cities and hamlets that they had built for themselves in the great strongholds and mountainous parts of the country, some great and good men who defended the people and the religion from the disturber’ (Chapter 81 of the Mahavansa). This means that the Magha invasion caused the disintegration of the Lankan kingdom into a number of regional strongholds from which ‘great and good men’ (such as Subha Senadhipathi of Yapahuwa, a general, Sankha of Gangadoni, another military chief, and Bhuvaneka Bahu on the top of the Govinda rock) defended the rest of the country, until king Vijayabahu III of Dambabeniya’s son and successor, Parakrabahu II, was finally able to drive away the despoilers. In earlier times, South Indian invaders, when defeated and driven away, sailed back to India, but this time, Magha with his retreating army made a permanent Tamil settlement in the north.

Since a millennium before that time, the interactions between the island and the southern and eastern regions of the subcontinent were almost exclusively at the trade and cultural or religious levels, and the island’s sovereignty was not challenged. But occasionally, right from the earliest times, traders became invaders. Thus, as the Mahavansa (Ch.11 ) records, ‘Two damila (malabar) youths powerful in cavalry and navy, named Sena and Guttika’ (Sena and Guttika were horse traders with a fleet of ships.), after killing the reigning monarch Suratissa, who must have been very old by that time, ‘righteously reigned for twenty-two years’ from 237 to 215 BCE. But Suratissa’s youngest brother (most probably nephew) Asela defeated and put to death the usurpers, and restored Sinhalese sovereignty, and ruled at Anuradhapura for ten years. Then, another powerful trader (as recently concluded by historians) from South India named Elara killed king Asela, and ruled the country for forty-four years. But see how the Mahavansa (Ch. 11) records this event: ‘A damila named Elara of the illustrious “Uju” tribe, invading this island from the Cola country, for the purpose of usurping the sovereignty, and putting to death the reigning king Asela, ruled the kingdom for forty-four years, – administering justice with impartiality to friends and to foe.’

Following is how king Dutugemunu treated his fallen enemy king Elara, fully recognizing the latter’s noble reputation as a righteous ruler, though a usurper, as recorded in the Mahavansa Ch. 25: (Mr Sirimanne alludes to this episode in a rather offhand manner.)

‘Summoning within the town the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, within the distance of a yojana, he held a festival in honour of king Elara. Consuming the corpse in a funeral pile on the spot where he fell, he built a tomb there; and ordained that it should receive honours (like unto those conferred on a Cakkavatti). Even unto this day, the monarchs who have succeeded to the kingdom of Lanka, on reaching that quarter of the city, whatever the procession may be, they silence their musical band.’

(This royal decree is honoured by the Sinhalese Buddhists even today, after over two thousand years.)

Isn’t this something hard to come by in the history of war in the world, war being an ever present necessary evil, as it were, in human affairs? King Dutugemunu’s magnanimity in victory came from his Buddhist upbringing. At the beginning of his campaign against Elara, prince Dutugemunu declared: ‘This enterprise of mine is not for the purpose of acquiring the pomp and advantages of royalty. This undertaking has always had for its object the re-establishment of the religion of the Supreme Buddha…..’. (The country’s ancient Buddhist culture is a world heritage that must be protected.) The same compassionate and generous spirit was alive in the hearts of the young soldiers and their commanders who took part in the humanitarian operation in the north that put an end to the armed separatist terrorism in 2009. They could have brought the war to a quicker end and suffered a lot fewer casualties among themselves than they did, had they chosen to defy what was inherent in their cultural DNA. Unfortunately, the geo-poiltics driven superpowers have not recognized this fact, and have visited punitive afflictions on Sri Lanka for alleged violation of human rights that make life miserable for all Sri Lankans.

To return to my subject, geographical proximity no doubt was a factor in the stimulation of interactions between the two countries, but mass movements of population to and fro were not so easy as to be a usual occurrence. The fact that Sinhala kings sometimes brought queen consorts from South India (due to complicated succession problems that had nothing to do with the then existing demography of the country) is not something unique to them. Just look at the Wikipedia: The recently deceased queen Elizabeth II’s family tree has ancient roots in Germany, Denmark, Russia, etc.; but citizens of those countries do not seem to think of claiming that she was of their ethnicity or of assuming that the fact had any political significance.

Of course, as a result of these interactions, the Sinhalese acquired a great deal of Indian culture. But the important thing to remember while appreciating that fact is that over the past twenty-three centuries the Sinhalese have cherished their own language, their own distinct spiritual doctrine (Buddhism), and their island home with its rich abundance of recorded and unrecorded evidence of their prehistoric insular ancestry and their ancient Buddhist heritage. When it comes to sharing the natural resources of the land with minorities with different religious cultures, languages, ethnicities, etc. that joined them later in different contexts, there is no other race of people who are more humanely accommodating than the Sinhalese Buddhists in spite of the fact that they were the most persecuted community during the past half a millennium under the jackboot of three European colonial powers. Why were they singled out for such suppressive treatment? It was because the colonialists correctly identified the Sinhalese (under the benign sway of their spiritual masters, the Buddhist monks) as their only implacable enemy.

Traditionally, whenever the country and the Buddha Sasanaya were in jeopardy, the monks have come forward as defenders, on rare occasions even as armed soldiers. Warrior king Dhatusena who ruled at Anuradhapura from 455 to 473 CE, having defeated six Dravidian usurpers, was a Buddhist monk in his youth. King Senerath of Kandy (who reigned from 1604 to 1635 CE) was originally a monk. He disrobed to become king in order to try to rid the country of invading foreign powers. He fought against the occupying Portuguese and expanded the territory of his kingdom. The Sinhalese only thought of the country, the Buddha Sasanaya, and the commonality of people, not so much about their race. In modern times, sometimes Buddhist monks have cause to feel threatened by non-Buddhist extremists who forcibly enter the Buddhists’ religious space or when they vandalize or lay claim to ancient Buddhist archaeological sites (even violating the antiquities ordinances established in British times). It is natural that they try to raise awareness among the citizens about these things and to get the political authorities to set things right according to the law. People who have political or sectarian or religious axes to grind have no qualms about excoriating the monks and lay Buddhists for alleged racism, chauvinism, extremism, xenophobia, and so on, simply because they raise their voice against the covert and overt excesses of extremists that go undetected or unrecognized by local political authorities and the hostile foreign NGO brigade. Of course, it must be remembered that Tamil Hindus face the same threats from religious fundamentalists. Actually, Tamil Hindu and Sinhala Buddhist solidarity is indispensable for mutual protection from the proselytizing zealotry of mindless fundamentalists. Certain foreign funded NGOs and their local allies do everything possible to prevent the Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus from uniting for making common cause against unethical conversion projects.

Mr Sirimanne seems to imply that colonizing of Sri Lanka by three European nations happened as a matter of course, apparently unopposed by the native Sinhalese and Tamils, and that they somehow benefited from the experience. The truth is otherwise. Our people were massacred, our places of worship were vandalized, desecrated, burned down, or alienated to strangers or converts, while the country’s natural resources were plundered, and the sons of the soil were oppressed, downtrodden, and exploited. Because of this historical reality, for all the missionaries’ efforts of four and a half centuries, only about six percent of the local population had embraced Christianity/Catholicism by 1947, and the rest 94% had willingly forfeited all claims to possible material rewards by refusing to abandon their no less humanizing hereditary faiths.

At first, under the Portuguese, Sinhalese Buddhists in coastal areas embraced Christianity under duress, but later, as Mr Sirimanne says ‘Many Sinhalese in towns and cities for favors changed their religion and acquired Portuguese names’. Serving or saving the Sinhalese was not the real concern of the Portuguese. They thought of their own people back home, just as the foreign powers involved in our internal affairs currently do. Portugal at that time was not as resource-rich as Sri Lanka, its people were enjoying a far lower standard of living than the contemporary Sinhalese. Provocation for plunder was high. And it didn’t go unheeded. (See Dr Susantha Goonatilake’s ‘A 16th Century Clash of Civilisations: Portuguese Presence in Sri Lanka’, Vijitha Yapa, 2010) The Dutch who followed them introduced a network of canals for transport of local products for export for their own revenue, and introduced Roman Dutch Law for ease of administering the provinces they were occupying. It is true that in the course of time, these innovations became useful to the descendants of the people that they had indifferently robbed.

On February 4, 1948, Sri Lanka was granted dominion status (within the British Commonwealth) which was short of full independence. It was not something remarkable or memorable by any means. India was given the same status on August 15, 1947. But the wiser and more dignified Indian leaders implicitly eschewed the ‘benefits’ of membership of that body, and officially quit it on January 26, 1950, and asserted their country’s full independence, worthy of their many millennia of glorious civilization, which produced the great Buddhist emperor Ashoka, who introduced Buddhism to our country, and about whom H.G. Wells said: “……..amid tens of thousands of names of monarchs, “Ashoka shines, shines almost alone, a star” .

The patriotic progressive people of Sri Lanka under the leadership of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike declared Sri Lanka a republic on May 22, 1972. Now that was a momentous occasion for the whole nation to celebrate. But it was less than an ideal choice to remain a member of the Commonwealth. Probably the choice was made for us by the powers that be. Has any special benefit accrued to Sri Lanka as a result? Has it done anything to relieve the suffering inflicted on the peaceful citizens for having defeated terrorism and saved democracy? Has it ever intervened on our behalf in such situations?

Mr D.L. Sirimanne ends his interesting article “Celebrating 75th Anniversary of Independence” (The Island/Opinion/January 18, 2023) with the following paragraph, which prompted this response:

‘It is almost 75 years since Sri Lanka obtained Independence from Britain and unfortunately the country was misruled and ruined by ignorant avaricious unpatriotic Sinhalese leaders fighting for power. It is now a bankrupt nation and 80% of the population is starving without food, fuel and medicine. It a disgrace to plan celebrating 75 years of ‘misrule’ as ’75 years of Independence.’ The 4th February 2023 should be a day of repentance and religious prayers to God, Allah and all the Devas to make Sri Lanka a prosperous and happy nation, with freedom and equality to all its multinational and multireligious citizens in the very near future.’

That within the last seventy-five years since the end of British occupation there have been some ‘ignorant avaricious unpatriotic Sinhalese leaders fighting for power’ is undeniable. We have living examples in the highest places even today. But to say that the country has been misruled and ruined solely by these unpatriotic Sinhalese leaders is a crass generalization that arbitrarily transfers all blame to the leaders of the Sinhala majority, while exonerating the few communalists among the minority politicians, who are actually even more responsible for retarding the forward march of post-independence Sri Lanka by adopting hostile attitudes to nationally beneficial changes proposed by Sinhalese leaders.

The Sinhalese voters, whenever they have the chance to do so, democratically elect their parliamentary representatives, hoping or requiring that they make laws for governing the country for the good of all its citizens regardless of multifarious differences among them. On every occasion that they felt persuaded that the leader who would be able to bring in necessary changes to transform the country so that this goal could be fully realized, they elected him or her with tremendous majorities, which were augmented by at least some votes from the minorities as well, such as when they elected Mr Bandaranaike in 1956, Mrs Bandaranaike in 1970, Mr Jayawardane in 1977, Mrs Chandrika Bandaranaik Kumaratungae in 1994, Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010, and Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019. In all these cases, they were elected on a nationalist platform, not on a communalist basis. Although ordinary Tamil and Muslim voters are as fair-minded and as democratic as the ordinary Sinhalese voters, the ruling elite of each minority community rouse communal feelings among its polity against the majority for their own advantage, rather than for that of the community they claim to represent. The evil practice of political horse-trading between majority and minority politicians seems to have come to stay. Global and regional superpowers exploit this situation to push their geopolitical agendas at the expense of Sri Lanka.

Mr Sirimanne’s wish for ‘a prosperous and happy nation, with freedom and equality to all its multinational and multireligious citizens’ is what all right-minded Sri Lankans have shared and have been slowly but surely moving towards since 1948. The British adopted the infamous divide and rule imperial policy, which is still being used against us. The term ‘multinational’ is problematic for our small country in that it denotes a number of nations, which means it promotes division. To say that we are a multiethnic or multiracial and multicultural nation is better for establishing ‘freedom and equality’ for all Sri Lankans. They already enjoy these. If there are any lapses, they are common to all communities.

The solution is not to try to return to the alleged Utopia that the British are believed by some to have bequeathed to us at independence (for such wasn’t the reality), or to overlook the 1972 change as insignificant, but to make way for the young of the country today to make a correct assessment of what has been achieved and what has not been achieved by the previous generations since independence (who were no less patriotic, no less proactive than them) and forge ahead with new insights, new visions, and appropriate course corrections as our ancestors did during crises to ensure our survival for so long as one people in spite of manifold differences among us.

Concluded

Sri Lanka: A Paradise Misplaced

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7 mins read

Our island was called Lanka in pre-King Vijaya times. Valmiki’s immortal Ramayanaya had King Ravana ruling the land from the city of Lankapura. That was almost four thousand years ago. The Arab traders termed it Jaziratul-Yaqut, island of rubies. Some called it Serendib, some Ceilan, from which the Portuguese picked Ceilao and the European mapmakers coined Ceylon. Many were the names from the many that came. Bar none, everyone agreed and noted in their chronicles that this Island was indeed the complete Paradise.

We never created it. Let’s be honest about that part. We simply inherited. The gods from their celestial dome, in their infinite kindness, gifted this Paradise to us, the beautiful island of Lanka, to the people of Sri Lanka.

The privilege of being born to such a serendipitous place can only be  expressed if one could take away the corruption that has besieged us all since independence. We need to look through the veils of racial and religious disharmony that obscure the overwhelming beauty that lies beyond. The purity of the land still remains, vastly unspoiled. The occupants of Paradise, still smile, despite the battering they had received from the time they were reborn after the colonials left. Mother Lanka dawdles, whilst her sons and daughters drowse in ignorance, an ominous prelude to the torrential disasters that loom in the near horizon.

Times are sad and the question is paramount in any mind that carries an iota of sanity. “75 years, WHAT HAVE THEY DONE?” The sum total of the misfortunes that the majority of the proletariat suffer is directly related to the bad governance of the country. It is not the vegetable seller that is responsible nor the fisherman or the cobbler. It is neither the schoolteacher nor the clerical battalion.  None of these Lilliputian shareholders of Paradise are responsible for the doom that is staring at us in gloom.  Who is directly responsible for this megalomaniacal catastrophe? It must be the gods, not the ones from Mount Olympus but the ones from Diyawanna Oya. Everyone who sits in those 225 thrones, whether they were proposers or opposers or the ones who raised their hands in agreement or those who sinned in silence abstaining from their sworn duty. They are all responsible for raping this land. 

The ‘misplacing of Paradise’ is directly related to Diyawanna Oya. It is from there the fountains of corruption gush out from every orifice to drown the trampled denizens of Paradise.

And now they want to celebrate 75 years of independent ruination?

Galle Face gave birth to the Aragalaya. It was not born to racial or religious parents, not to political surrogate fathers or international stepmothers. Hired ‘andabera karayo’ (announcing tom tom beaters) and unethical scribes may attempt to blacken the purity of the protest that raised its head when living in Paradise became unbearable. But such camouflage will not eradicate the deep-felt anger that has soaked the ordinary man, woman and child who walked to Galle Face to give life to the Aragalaya.

Their participation in the protest had nothing to do with politics. There may have been a thief or two in the jury, but the majority came because they could not breathe any more. The suffocation of the common man and woman who were down to their knees is what made them gather at the Galle Face Green.

The mighty may assume the Aragalaya has fizzled out. Many were arrested and some were jailed. The political pack was re-shuffled and puppeteers looking for those willing to dance were gifted high pedestals. Nothing changed at Diyawanna Oya. It is still the same stage, only some actors are different. Mother Lanka weeps at the perpetual tragedy.The once bubbling Aragalaya breathes softly like a slow-burning fuse. It is the idea that remains, and ideas do not die, nor can they be eradicated.

When the sun goes down and the pavements become bedchambers for the super poor who pray for the rains to hold till morning.

Little children hear the music of the ‘Choon Paan’ tuk tuk and wonder when they can afford a ‘kimbula bunis’ again. Schools re-open, book lists are out but where is the money to buy? Hospitals have no drugs; power cuts are a daily torment, and they talk about extending the dark hours.

Tourists trickle in while Srilankans of all races and religions are queuing in hoards to jump ship and vanish to wherever they can.

These are no fairy tales of my redundant imagination. They are the stories of Paradise. The day-to-day events play sad and silent along with the cacophony of achievements and flash-pan plans to celebrate 75 years of independence. Don’t tell me the suffering is isolated, oh no, not by a long shot. They are the unheard, the ignored and the expendables of the displaced congregation of Paradise. The ‘boast of heraldry’ is loud and clear, so is the ‘pomp of power’ announcing to the world and beyond the inflated paths of progress. The air is filled with milk and honey stories and rainbow visions for the morrow. But isn’t there a big question mark? Isn’t there some serious filtering needed to seek and give room to the truth?

I am not talking of March provincial elections or who is joining hands with whom to ruin the country more. Politics do not interest me. I’m like the kids that run after the ‘Choon Paan’ tuk tuk with empty pockets. Hope is there but with hardly any reality. Just totally confused between right and wrong and where lies the light or is it only a long dark tunnel? I’m writing of the core expectation, the very basics that humans search for. We need peace and honest governance, the pursuit of happiness to which we are all entitled, like the simple ‘Kimbula Bunis’ the kids crave for. This is what Paradise should be made of, which unfortunately is missing. Yes, our Paradise is mired in a total political mess at present devoid of any reasonable and practical answers.

Everyone is trying to go abroad. Why do all these people leave Mother Lanka? Something must have gone wrong in the system. The exodus only began after we were reborn as an independent nation. Ludowyke and Van Sanden left in the sixties, Somasundaram and Gunesekara in the eighties the entire ‘jimband’ started migrating at the turn of the century. Hence, the blame is not with the colonials and their international shackles. It is ours and ours alone, lying firmly in the Pontius hands of the custodians who were chosen to charter our future. Isn’t it crystal clear today that the political leadership we voted for and sent to Diyawanna Oya has failed miserably in their delivery? 

Let’s get back to the theme of the hour, the forthcoming independence celebration.  I wonder what we are celebrating after 75 years of ruling by the sons and daughters of mother paradise. Is it the egg that is 75 rupees or the half kilo of dhal selling at 300 or the loaf of bread at 180? Maybe the 170 for the Sunlight soap has to be celebrated and the red onions at 720 a kilo. The coconut is over 100 rupees and a mere 400 gram packet of Rathi milk powder is 1,200 rupees.

No wonder the children are almost starving, and the parents roll onto a reed-mat after a hard day’s work on empty stomachs.   

Yet we are celebrating independence to tell the world how great our Paradise is. Never mind the begging bowl we carry internationally; on 4th morning the marching multitudes and the rolling armour must be on display. The cost of the aerial circus will be astounding. There will be at least 4 sets of different aeroplanes flying in formation over the heads of gods and demigods sitting under VVIP shade at the Galle Face green which is the scene of celebration.

You have to practice flying these air-displays. From a week before the 4th you will hear their engines roar from Kalutara to Katunayake.The jets shrieking, training for the fly-pass, will shatter the clear blue skies and disturb every student writing the ‘A’ level exams in that area. The F-7 fighter-jets in this aero-ballet burn 40 liters of fuel a minute at low levels. And we the minions of Paradise loiter in snaking ques down below with our QR codes to get 20 liters of fuel for one week. If I call it a mockery, that will be gross flattery.  Need to mint a new word to describe this folly.

Do I have to say any more? We the majority may be struggling for the crumbs that fall off the table, but the show must go on. After all it is independence, and it must be celebrated.

There are some solid silver lines too in our 75-year-old dark cloud. The free education is a wonderful achievement and so is the free health care scheme. Yes, at present the hospitals may struggle with the lack of drugs, but the system is there to help and heal any patient. The credit goes to the powers that were in a bygone era. There are other consolations too, one cannot be totally paranoid. Factory jobs are there for those without a trade. Stitching for Marks and Spencer and their likes help thousands to keep their home fires burning.

Some no-skills Paradisians pawn their souls to go abroad as domestics and for minor employment. They are the local Dick Whittingtons charging into the unknown, exploited at every toll gate. They slave in alien third-class status to send pitifully earned dollars to their loved ones to survive in Paradise. Wasn’t it their brothers and fathers who fought and died in the 30-year war to save their motherland?

Seventy-five years have gone by from the day of independence. The blameless blame, the nameless suffer and the shameless go on, rough-shodding their way to erode and annihilate Paradise. No need to further elaborate, the reasons are obvious. Some things are best left unsaid. Let me be the coward and let discretion become the better part of my limited attempts at journalism.

Call me a fool if it pleases you and I will accept it. But let me trickle some sanity to your thoughts. Just to kindle an interest. Totally non-political. I cannot and do not separate the villain from the venerated. The line is too thin, and the facts are wildly scattered. The truth certainly is in masquerade.

The Lankan Paradise is not lost, at least, not yet. It is certainly misplaced. That much can be clearly seen, lest one be blind. What happens in the end to things that are misplaced? They never get found and as time goes by, they will go permanently missing.

Ours is a Paradise misplaced. Let us all valiantly search for answers, it is not too late. Let us collectively find ourselves and our land, before it vanishes beyond the limits and becomes a Paradise Lost.

Sri Lanka: Is recolonisation the final solution?

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9 mins read

First of all, let me express my sincere respects to Mr D.L. Sirimanne, the writer of the interesting article entitled ‘Celebrating 75th Anniversary of Independence’ (The Island/Opinion/January 18, 2023). He struck me as a venerable old man, who, at 103 years of age, still thinks about the welfare of his fellow Sri Lankans. It is rare for a person of that age to be so clear-headed and lucid in his writing. His generous spirit and his literary activity may be one reason for his healthy longevity, I think. His mention of retired aviator turned writer Elmo Jayawardana, whom  I highly admire for the same altruistism of character and the same literary gifts that Mr Sirimanne displays, made me check out whatever other information is available about him online. Actually, I had never come across the name D.L. Sirimanne before I read his Sat Mag feature in The Island ‘An epic Air Ceylon charter flight…….’ on October 24, 2020, which I re-visited today and which enabled me to relive the delightful experience of reading it. I also watched an old TV interview uploaded to the You Tube, featuring him. We have very few unsung heroes like Mr Sirimanne. It was time well spent, I thought, although I do not share his views about the history of Sri Lanka, the hallowed and historic homeland of the Sinhalese, their inalienable Motherland, or his opinion about the primary cause of the economic mess that Sri Lanka is currently undergoing. But the old ghosts he recalls in the otherwise excellent essay that he’s written had better be exorcized once and for all, for denigrating the majority Sinhalese community and belittling their history which is synonymous with that of their island home, based entirely on wrong assumptions, will definitely undermine all attempts to bring political stability, economic prosperity, and intercommunal harmony to Sri Lanka.

Please rest assured, Mr Sirimanne, my writing this will not detract in the least from my deepest admiration for you. You are not wrong in holding the views that you are sharing with the readers, given the time that you spent your youth, the most vibrant years of your life. It is only that times have changed, new discoveries have been made in science leading to the emergence of new technologies, and corresponding advances in the ever expanding universe of human knowledge, including such domains as astronomy, psychology, social sciences, art, culture, politics, history and archaeology and so on, in the light of which we are developing a better, more accurate idea of our past among other things. Something that has not changed, though, as far as our country is concerned, is the interfering ghost of departed Western colonialism, that is largely responsible for our problems. 

The fact that we are surrounded by the ocean has determined the nature of our evolution as an independent civilization, and the character of our commercial, cultural and political/diplomatic relations we have had with the outside world. As island dwellers, quite naturally, we have always been wary of foreigners though we have always treated them hospitably; we have been always independent spirited, and protective of our land, and our Buddhist culture. Before the depredations of European occupation, we, as an island nation had an extensive global reach on account of trade and our Buddhist spiritual culture. Groups of people and individuals travelled into as well as out of the island in connection with the last mentioned. The main body of the original inhabitants of the island were saved from being numerically overwhelmed by the influx of large numbers of immigrants from the relatively less hospitable or less inhabitable lands around, due to the sea barrier. Foreign commercial-cum-military powers that made incursions into the island from the legendary Vijaya to the British mercantile/imperial power at the end of the 18th century had first come as traders, attracted by the natural riches of the country. (According to new scientific findings in historiography and archaeology, the legendary Vijaya and the later invader Elara who ruled at Anuradhapura (205-161 BCE) were actually connected with trade.)

Mr Sirimanne seems to come from the minuscule Westernized,English speaking, Christian ‘elite’ society, the comprador class of the native population, that lived in relative comfort and  probably didn’t worry too much about independence from the British.They were akin to the ‘mimic men’ in Trinidad-born English novelist V.S. Naivpaul’s novel by that name, who tried to be what the imperial British did not allow them to be. But this was at the expense of the vast mass of the downtrodden  colonized ‘natives’, who were subjected to flagrant exploitation and relentless dehumanization, something that reminds me of what journalist and novelist Robert McCrum says about the lack of moral justification for the comfortable lifestyle of the rich upper crust of the Anglo-American society today: “No one dwelling in comfort on the higher ground of Anglo-American society should ever forget that a brutal trade in human lives was a motor of the British and American economies throughout the eighteenth and part of the nineteenth century….”. (Globish, Viking, 2010). McCrum, of course, is referring to the slave trade.

In the case of Sri Lanka and its large northern neighbour India, this period of European imperial exploitation became most virulent for the two centuries from around the mid-18th to the mid-20th century. (It looks as if, in the West dominated global media, this history is being fast sanitized.)  Former Indian diplomat and writer Dr Shashi Tharoor (who served at the UN for twenty-nine years, ending his stint there as Under Secretary General), in his ‘INGLORIOUS EMPIRE: What the British did to India’ (Scribe, Melbourne and London, 2018) tells the thoroughly researched true story of the British in India – from the arrival of the East India Company to the end of the Raj – and reveals how Britain’s rise was built upon its plunder of India. However, the careful reader understands that Tharoor’s purpose is not to narrate a sequence of events and tell a story as such, but to critically study the legacy the British left in India and to demolish arguments that try to support claims for alleged benefits of colonial rule. (However, Tharoor does not deny that the British did leave, incidentally though, a few treasures, such as a democratic form of government, and the English language.) Delhi-based historian William Dalrymple’s ‘THE ANARCHY: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company’ (Bloomsbury Publishing Company, London, 2019) is a riveting narrative that tells the story of how the (British) East India Company transformed itself from an international trading corporation into something quite different: an aggressive colonial power in the guise of a multinational business run by English merchants collecting taxes from the impoverished natives using a ruthless private army. 

Sri Lanka is very small compared to India in terms of area. India is roughly 46 times the size of Sri Lanka and its population roughly 64 times. But internationally, we are accepted as an independent sovereign state similar to India that enjoys full fledged membership of the United Nations. There is nothing unusual about this. There are dozens of countries with even smaller populations than ours, such as Burkino Faso, Chile, Malavi, Mali, Romania, Zambia, etc., that stand as independent sovereign states. We are not, by any means, inferior to India as a sovereign nation.     

To liken Ceylon (or Sri Lanka) to ‘a brilliant emerald on the beautiful pendant of Mother India’ is to imply that our country is/was an appendage of India! It never was, but present day Indian politicians appear to wish it was, and even to behave as if it already is, and some of our own worthless unpatriotic politicians seem to agree! How can a Sri Lankan celebrate a ‘Mother India’, instead of Mother Lanka? To be colonized by foreign invaders is not an experience that can be or should be forgotten with glib talk. No self-respecting nation in the world will relish that humiliating experience. We are a people with an honourable history. Our country has been called Sihele or Sivhela or Sinhale or Sinhaladipa (the europeanized ‘Ceylon’ is a derivative of Sihele), or Lanka, as it is often referred to in the 5th century CE Mahavansa or the Great Chronicle and as it is usually called in colloquial Sinhala even today, and Tamilized as Ilankei. (Incidentally, all the quotations from the Mahavansa and its continuation the Cuavansa found in this essay are from Mudaliyar L. C. Wijesinghe’s translation of 1889.) 

Sri Lanka had survived 17 invasions from South India before the European phase of colonization actually started at the beginning of the 17th century (1602), though the fortuitous arrival of the Portuguese happened almost a century earlier in 1505. The Portuguese were in Sri Lanka till they were driven away in 1658 by the Dutch, who in their turn gave way to the British in 1796. The British helped themselves to the maritime provinces of the country previously occupied by the other two European powers. All these invasions and occupations met with the fiercest resistance from the native Sinhalese  population. They did not bring Tamils from South India to fight these wars. Jayantha Somasundaram claimed in an article published in The Island a couple of months ago that the Sinhalese did not go to war against invaders because as Buddhists they did not want to kill. This is a deliberate falsehood. Of course, it is true that when there was internecine strife, Sinhalese kings sometimes brought in mercenaries from South India as when Mugalan did in order to challenge his half-brother Kasyapa of Sigiriya in the 5th century CE. Invader Magha of Kalinga brought an army of Kerala mercenaries (according to Chapter 80 of the Mahavansa (in the form of Culavansa written in the 13th century CE by a Buddhist Bhikkhu named Dhammakitti) to fight against the ruler of Lanka at the time Parakrama Pandyan of Polonnaruwa in 1215 CE. By the time of the British advent at the end of the 18th century, the interior part of the island formed the Kandyan kingdom or the diminished kingdom of Sinhale hemmed in all sides by occupied territories; but it had itself repeatedly and heroically foiled European military occupation. It was only through subtle diplomatic intrigue that it was annexed to the British Empire in 1815.  

Even my father (who was of Mr D.L. Sirimanne’s generation), though he was no historian, scoffed at the implausibility of the Mahavansa story about prince Vijaya. “How could we be descendants of a lion, an animal, and still be humans?” he used to say. He also ridiculed the Aryan claim in the Hitlerian sense. He only believed in the word ‘Arya’ as it is used in Buddhism, that is, to refer to a spiritually advanced person. But Mr Sirimanne seems to have no issue with the ‘Aryan’ identity of the Sinhalese, who had allegedly come from Sinhapura in North India.  Mr Sirimanne believes that the tribes that inhabited the place when prince Vijaya landed at Tambapanni, known as Yakkas and Nagas, were ‘probably Hindus from South India’. He has left out the Devas and the Rakshas, the other two of the four indigenous tribes who are believed to have inhabited the island then. 

However, the Vijaya legend must have a nucleus of historical truth in it. It might be based on an actual invasion by a north Indian prince, who initiated a dynasty that imported princes from the mythical Sinhapura to rule at Tambapanni. The subject Yakkas’ Sinhalese identity must have derived from the natural admixture at that stage of the native Yakkas with the members of the invading north indian ‘Aryan’ clan. There definitely had developed a struggle between the invaders and the local elite over sovereignty by the time of the death of king Panduvasudeva (who reigned at Tambapanni from 504 to 474 BCE). In fact, Pandukabhaya (born in 474 BCE, the year his grandfather died) who ascended the throne at Anuradhapura after a protracted military struggle against his uncles is considered the first truly Lankan monarch (but the 6th king overall) since Vijaya. The Mahavansa story (found in Ch. 10) about the emergence of Pandukabhaya features a number of real Yakkhas and Yakkhinis, who are shown to be as much human as those who had come from Sinhapura (though they are presented with a supernatural touch.) 

But today we know for sure that the Yakkas were the real ancestors of the Sinhalese (Kuveni was a Yakka princess), and that they were also contemporaneous with the Veddas. The fake classification of the Veddas as ‘aadivasin’ (aborigines) by Western anthropologists was probably meant to deny the Sinhalese their autochthonous origin in this island.  Yakka language inscriptions have been found and deciphered, one of which, according to archaeology Professor Raj Somadeva, declares “api yakku” we are yakkas. The Mahavansa says that the missionary Mahinda Thera preached Buddhism ‘in the language of the islanders’, which was undoubtedly, the Yakka language, the ancient version of Sinhala, that was in circulation then. 

The most powerful factor, next to genetics, that distinguishes one race from another is its language. In the case of the Sinhalese it is the Sinhala language with its unique vocal sound system, its own grammar and vocabulary. (Words like vatura for water, vee for rice paddy, haal/sahal for(rice, bath for cooked rice, kamata for threshing floor, gala  for rock, and so on are original Sinhala words, not borrowed from any other language; another original Sinhala word is ‘wewa’ (turned into Pali form in the chronicles as waapi)), meaning an artificial water reservoir constructed by building a dam across a valley for storing water for agricultural irrigation during rainless months. However, down the ages, contact with the North Indian languages of Pali or Magadi and Sanskrit has heavily hybridized the Sinhala vocabulary. This is the reason why Sanskrit-derived Hindi and Bengali languages sound more familiar and are more easily intelligible to the Sinhalese than the Dravidian languages of South India such as Tamil or Malayalam (a few elements from the last two can also be detected, particularly in spoken (non-formal, non-literary) Sinhala…

Continued   

Source: The Island

Sri Lanka: Sovereign Insolvency

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19 mins read

The sovereign default announced by Sri Lanka on 12 April 2022, was the cumulative result of fiscal folly over many years. This writer has attempted to uncover the root causes of our ‘sovereign predicament’ in a series of interviews with international media between January and July 2022; a curated version of which could be accessed online1.

Two in-depth studies by this writer published in 20162 and 20173 prognosticated what was clearly a looming disaster. These were published in academic journals in 2016 and 2017, they were orally presented at the Inaugural Nagalingam Balakrishnan Memorial Lecture4 in Colombo on 21 June 2014, and at an international conference organised by the Centre for Poverty Analysis5 (CEPA) in Colombo from 1 to 3 September 2014, respectively.

The purpose of this essay is to highlight the specific blunders by successive Governors of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and members of the Monetary Board since 2006 that has led to the current crisis, and hold them accountable for their actions and/or inactions over a period of 16 years (July 2006-April 2022). Authority and power come with accountability and responsibility. 

A couple of retired senior Central Bank staff (retired Deputy Governor of CBSL Dr. W.A. Wijewardena6, and retired Director of Statistics at CBSL Dr. S.S. Colombage7), independent Economists, and many other professionals (for example, Sanjeewa Jayaweera8) have repeatedly and publicly forewarned the Central Bank and the Treasury of Sri Lanka about their risky and wrongful policies since 2006 (if not before). Yet, successive Governors and Monetary Boards have not heeded saner counsel. 

This study offers citations/references that amply demonstrate where the fault lines were and who was directly or indirectly responsible for patently risky and wrong policy decisions. 

Global best practices in central banking in brief 

The independence of the Central Bank is a foundational imperative in an open market-led economic/monetary system. As a corollary, there must be a strict separation of powers between the Treasury/Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of a country. This demarcation is as important as the insulation of the judiciary from the executive and the legislature. 

Countdown to sovereign bankruptcy in Sri Lanka

The very first breach of the independence of the Central Bank and its autonomy viz the Treasury occurred in the late-1990s when Sri Lanka graduated in to the lower middle-income country in 1997 and thereby gained access to borrowings in the private international capital markets. The Secretary to the Treasury was made an ex-officio member of the Monetary Board of the CBSL by the then President of Sri Lanka Chandrika Kumaratunga. A.S. Jayawardane was the then Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

Although Sri Lanka was eligible to borrow from the private international capital markets in 1997, the very first such borrowing was in 2007 through the issuance of an International Sovereign Bond (ISB) to the value of $ 500 million. The then Opposition Leader and current President of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe9, wrote to the joint lead managers of the debut float (Barclays Capital, HSBC, & J.P. Morgan) in 2007 that a future government of his would dishonour repayment of the same.

After the election of Mahinda Rajapaksa as President in November 2005, Ajith Nivard Cabraal was appointed as the Governor of the Central Bank in July 2006. It has been the practice to appoint the senior-most Assistant/Deputy Governor to the post of Governor of the Central Bank since its inception in 1950 until President Premadasa appointed Dissanayaka as the Governor in 1992. Dissanayaka was a civil servant in the Ceylon Administrative Service (and its successor Sri Lanka Administrative Service) and was a Deputy Secretary to the Treasury prior to his appointment as the Governor of the Central Bank in 1992.

For the first time in the history of the CBSL a versatile book keeper assumed the role of Governor of the Central Bank in 2006. This appointment of a person who had scant regard for demonstrated and proven principles of central banking put the integrity of the Central Bank in peril. 

The decline of the technical competence and integrity of this premier institution was apparent to all but the ruling crony class. 

This writer learnt that there were deliberate actions taken by the newly appointed Governor to weaken the technical competence and integrity of the Central Bank by way of side-lining senior competent professional staff such as the then Head of Economic Research, Dr. H.N. Thenuwara, and the then Head of Statistics, Dr. Anila Dias Bandaranaike, among others. Such arbitrary, irrational acts of the new Governor resulted in the premature retirement/departure of Dr. H.N. Thenuwara, Dr. Anila Dias Bandaranaike, Rose Cooray, and the like from the Central Bank. Governor Cabraal wanted a compliant and subservient staff and a pliant Monetary Board as opposed to technically competent and upright senior staff with professional and personal integrity.

The year 2006 marked the beginning of severe politicisation of the CBSL never seen before in the history of the Central Bank since its establishment in 1950. It was not just the beginning of the politicisation of the Central Bank, it was also the beginning of the politicisation of the entire banking and financial sector including the private banks. The modus operandi of such politicisation was as follows. The CBSL under Cabraal utilised the EPF/ETF funds to purchase shares in the two largest private commercial banks. Commercial Bank of Ceylon (Com Bank) and the Hatton National Bank (HNB), and thereby secured memberships in the Board of Directors of such banks to park the retiring senior Central Bank officials such as Assistant/Deputy Governors. For example, Dr. Ranee Jayamaha (former Deputy Governor of CBSL) was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Hatton National Bank, and Dheerasinghe (former Deputy Governor of CBSL) was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Commercial Bank of Ceylon after their respective retirement from the CBSL. The foregoing appointments could have caused conflicts of interest (if not illegal). The justices of courts of law are barred from practicing law after retirement in order to prevent conflict of interest during their tenure as judges. In a similar vein, senior executive staff of a Central Bank should also be barred from working in the financial sector post retirement. 

The aforementioned appointments in the largest private commercial banks were made to influence/encourage those banks to borrow foreign exchange from private international capital markets to lend to the Government for its ambitious prestige infrastructure projects, inter alia, for what former Central Bank Governor W.D. Lakshman called the “developmental state”. (See the justification for such politicisation of the entire banking and financial sector by Dr. Weligamage Don Lakshman, one of the successors to Governor Ajith Cabraal (July 2006-January 2015) and the predecessor to Governor Ajith Cabraal (October 2021-April 2022), in 2020. Lakshman, 202010

Similarly, the CBSL under Ajith Cabraal directed state-owned commercial banks such as the People’s Bank and the Bank of Ceylon (BoC), and the state-owned specialised bank, National Savings Bank (NSB), to borrow foreign exchange from private international capital markets to lend to the Government for its ambitious prestige infrastructure projects as well as to fund capital expenditures of the state-owned public utilities such as the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB), a state-owned enterprise such as the SriLankan Airlines, and crude oil purchases of the state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC). (See, Sarvananthan, 201411, for example) 

Such Central Bank-directed external borrowings by state-owned banks, private commercial banks, and state-owned utilities/enterprises between 2006 and 2014, inter alia, have undermined the overall financial sector stability, increased the precarity/vulnerability of such semi-government and private financial enterprises, and contributed to the overall volatility of the external public debt portfolio of the country by way of underestimating the real total external liabilities of the Government. 

Policy milieu of the CBSL during 2006-2022

The Government’s direct borrowings through the issuance of International Sovereign Bonds (ISBs) and indirect borrowings through state-owned banks (such as syndicated loans) and utilities/enterprises (with and without government guarantee) currently account for over 50% of the total external debt of Sri Lanka. The borrowings by the state-owned banks and utilities/enterprises on explicit government guarantee are called “contingent liabilities”12 of the government in fiscal parlance. 

The ISBs bear the highest interest rates (between 5% and 9% in the international borrowings of Sri Lanka (see, for example, CBSL, 201213) among all the available external borrowing mechanisms (bilateral, multilateral, and private international capital market borrowings) to any country. Moreover, the repayments of ISBs are relatively short-term (5-10 years) without any grace period for the commencement of repayments. However, one advantage of ISBs is that borrower has to pay only the interest payment annually, and the entire capital is repayable only at maturity, which gives some breathing space for the borrower.

Between 2007 and 2019, borrowings in the private international capital markets were the primary mode of external borrowings for successive governments of Sri Lanka, in which borrowings do not require justification or do not come with strings attached (conditional upon economic policy reforms or political governance reforms). 

Ironically, certain press releases of the CBSL during 2007-2008 explicitly acknowledged that the proceeds of the ISBs were not only utilised to pay for certain infrastructure projects (such as the Hambantota port and southern highway) but also to retire some of the then-existing domestic debt that bore very high-interest rates (between 15% and 20% or higher) (see a series of articles by this author in Montage14 (current affairs magazine) edited by Frederica Janz at that time for criticisms of such external borrowings of the government/CBSL (unfortunately, we could not access the press releases of the CBSL before 2012 on their website now). 

In order to lessen the burden of short-term repayments of the ISBs, inter alia, successive Governors of the Central Bank have artificially kept the exchange rates quite stable thereby artificially overvaluing the domestic currency, the Sri Lankan rupee (LKR). This was the key policy blunder that led to the eventual sovereign default of the country in April-May 2022. The Central Bank’s frequent interventions in the foreign exchange market to prop up the rupee also contributed to heightened imports of consumption goods (including luxury motor vehicles, for example), especially during the period 2010-2019.

By keeping the value of the rupee artificially high by fixing the exchange rate/s for prolonged periods of time (years, not weeks or months) through frequent interventions in the foreign exchange market by the Central Bank, Sri Lanka’s exports were artificially overvalued (thereby undermining global competitiveness) in dollar terms, and earnings from tourism were suppressed. These were on top of the loss of the GSP+ facility for exports of goods and services to the European Union (EU) in the early 2010s. However, the GSP facility for Sri Lanka was restored in 2017 but is currently once again under intense review by the EU for the past couple of years. 

The severe negative impact of the managed floating exchange rate system practiced by the CBSL (as opposed to free float) is reflected in the fact that the exports of goods and services as a percentage of the GDP in Sri Lanka, in US dollar terms, that was 39% in 2000 and 32% in 2005 fell to mere 17% in 2021 (second lowest since 1960 after just 15% in 2020 due to the pandemic)15. 

Were the forgoing of exports and tourism earnings for white-elephant infrastructure projects and retiring of domestic debt rational and prudent management of the external finances of a country? To the best of the knowledge of this author, no sane government in any country would dare to borrow externally in the private international capital markets to retire its domestic debt in spite of the fact that domestic debt directly contributes to inflation. 

In addition to the folly of wanton borrowings through ISBs, the then Central Bank Governor Cabraal, and the then members of the Monetary Board (all political appointees) were singularly responsible for the losses incurred on hedging for crude oil imports16 and investments in ill-fated Greek Bonds17. The then Governor and the members of the Monetary Board have never been made accountable, to date, for such losses to the country. These past impunities have contributed to continued irrational and imprudent policy decisions of the Monetary Board (all political appointees), the chairperson of which is the Governor, that eventually resulted in the sovereign default in April-May 2022. 

By the time the Rajapaksa regime lost power in January 2015, Sri Lanka’s external debt position had already become precarious. The person who replaced Cabraal as the Governor of the CBSL in early 2015, Arjuna Mahendran, was once again from the international private sector though much more educated than Cabraal. However, Arjuna Mahendran also lacked professional and personal integrity like Cabraal, which resulted in the Central Bank of Sri Lanka bond scandal18. Arjuna Mahendran was removed from office in 2016 by the then President, Maithripala Sirisena, and replaced by Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy on 2 July 2016. Dr. Coomaraswamy possessed both educational qualifications and professional cum personal integrity to be the Governor of the Central Bank.

Whatever external borrowings made by the Government between 2015 and 2019 were almost entirely to make repayments of the external borrowings, especially ISBs, made during the period 2007 and 2014. The new President elected in November 2019 appointed “Emeritus Professor” W.D. Lakshman as the 15th Governor of the Central Bank effective from 24 December 2019. In spite of being a former “Professor of Economics” at the University of Colombo, Dr. Lakshman lacked the necessary exposure to the complex world of global commerce and the finer intricacies of international finance. 

Dr. Lakshman was an ideologue of a forgotten era. He was a lifelong critic of international financial institutions such as the IMF. Unsuitable to head the Central Bank of an emerging lower-middle-income open economy. Dr. Lakshman was the third worst Governor, after Ajith Nivard Cabraal and Arjuna Mahendran, the Central Bank of Ceylon/Sri Lanka has had in its entire history, though the former is professionally an honest person as opposed to the latter two. Dr. Lakshman’s lifelong pathological aversion to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) played a critical role in Sri Lanka’s procrastination to seek an IMF bailout.

By the time Dr. Lakshman was appointed the Governor in the closing days of 2019, Sri Lanka was shut out of the private international capital markets because of the repeated negative reports about the precarity of Sri Lanka’s sovereign bonds by global credit rating agencies such as the Fitch Group, Moody’s, and Standard & Poor (S&P) Global Ratings. Therefore, since the beginning of 2020, the CBSL was forced to borrow only locally in addition to several ad-hoc short-term currency swaps with Bangladesh, China, and India, a few bilateral credit lines from China and India, and one-off loans from Japan and South Korea. 

Money printing and Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)

Ironically, whereas a Central Bank’s role is to be a lender of ‘last resort’ to the government, under the governorship of Dr. Lakshman the CBSL became the lender of ‘first resort’ to the government by buying unprecedented levels of government securities, which literally meant printing money. 

While the dogmatic/theoretical inspiration for printing unlimited money is drawn from the fallacious Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), the practical lessons Dr. Lakshman19 cites are from Japan and the Newly Industrialised Countries (NICs) such as South Korea and Taiwan in the aftermath of the World War II, which he dub as “developmental states”. 

Dr. Lakshman, during his academic days, has publicly accepted corruption as a necessary evil during any country’s early stages of “take-off”, citing rampant corruption in Korea and Taiwan during their take-off period. I remember him juxtaposing corruption and successful developmental states as a classic chicken and egg conundrum at a public seminar held at the Dr. N.M. Perera Centre in Colombo several years ago, in which this author was a co-panellist. 

It is true that Japan, Korea, and Taiwan were developmental states (as opposed to market-driven states) during the early stages of their “take-off”. However, the global political and economic context during the immediate and medium-term post-World War II (i.e. 1950s, 1960s, & 1970s) period wherein victorious western powers regarded the aforesaid countries as bulwarks against communism raging throughout East and South East Asia did play a pivotal role for the resurgence of Japan as an economic powerhouse and the emergence of the so-called tiger economies (ala Korea and Taiwan). 

Hence, just because Korea and Taiwan were “developmental states”, Sri Lanka, for example, cannot emulate those “economic miracles”, through a developmental state. This author would argue that third world countries like Sri Lanka need what Prof. Rainer Kattel, et al, calls “entrepreneurial state”20. 

Two underlying cardinal principles of MMT are that as long as the public debt is denominated in domestic currency, a government need not worry about unlimited domestic borrowings because domestic currency could always be printed thereby avoiding a public debt default (i.e. states have “monetary sovereignty”), and that unlimited money printing ‘does not’ cause inflation! Both are fallacious according to mainstream economic science in general, and monetary theory in particular. (See, for example, Coats, 201921; Drumetz and Pfister, 202122; Hartley, 202223; Palley, 202024; Prinz and Beck, 202125)

In his oration to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Central Bank of Ceylon/Sri Lanka on 28 August 2020, Governor W.D. Lakshman promotes the idea of developmental central banking, deviating from the core functions/objectives laid out in the Monetary Law Act of 1949 and amendments thereof made in 2002. Implicit in his 70th anniversary oration was the justification for unlimited printing of money. Dr. Lakshman has been strenuously denying publicly that the printing of money causes inflation. One of Dr. Lakshman’s former students at the University of Peradeniya and later a lecturer in political economy in the same university (long retired), Sumanasiri Liyanage26, has publicly supported the printing of money by the Central Bank in January 2021.

Ajith Cabraal27, who once again functioned as the Governor of the CBSL between October 2021 and April 2022, propagated the myth in April 2021 that money printing does not cause inflation parroting the then Governor Lakshman. During the previous stint of Governor Cabral (at the CBSL) between 2006 and 2014, Dr. Lakshman was an “Adviser” at the Ministry of Finance. Cabraal had a history of shouting/shooting down negative reports by international credit rating agencies28 on Sri Lanka’s creditworthiness since 2006 to date. 

The over-stock of money in the market (as a result of money printing by the central banks worldwide), in the absence of a commensurate rise in production (primarily due to lack of demand), depreciates the domestic currencies resulting in hyper-inflation29 (including food inflation). In Sri Lanka, in the 21-month period between 1 January 2020, and 30 September 2021 (during Governor Lakshman’s tenure), due to excessive money printing30 by the Central Bank, the stock of money rose by 38% (i.e. by Rs. 2.9 trillion) whilst the GDP grew only by just 1%. This has caused inflation to rise to over 11%, and food inflation rose to over 18% in November 2021. 

These have seen steady rises ever since; resulting in the overall inflation, in terms of Sri Lanka Consumer Price Index (SLCPI), at its peak 74% in September 2022, and the food inflation at its peak 86% in September 2022. During the last quarter of 2022, however, both the overall inflation as well as the food inflation have begun to decelerate. 

Both Cabraal and Lakshman have unrepentantly deviated from the holy grail of central banking31, i.e. policy-making in the interest of the “public” as opposed to policy-making in the interest of the government in power or the politicians. 

The poor performance of Dr. Lakshman as Governor of the Central Bank is emblematic of poor standard of economic professors in Sri Lanka in particular, and poor pedigree and pedagogical practices of Sri Lankan academics in general. The tertiary level economic curriculum in Sri Lanka requires urgent and substantial revision and upgrading from outdated and irrelevant contents.

Theories of physical sciences are not subject to political or social circumstances, contexts, situations, or territories; that is, the outcomes of physical sciences theories are universal. In contrast, the outcomes of macroeconomic policies/theories vary according to the political and social circumstances, contexts, situations, and territories. Thus, right macroeconomic policies should be adopted taking into consideration of the individual political and social circumstances, contexts, situations, and territories. Just because advanced industrial countries were printing unlimited money for prolonged periods during the pandemic, any developing country cannot afford to print unlimited money for an indefinite period of time to revive its pandemic-affected economy. 

Lessons to be learned from sovereign bankruptcy in Sri Lanka

It is high-time the proposed new Monetary Law Act (MLA) in Sri Lanka explicitly and clearly define the qualifications and experiences required for the post of Governor of the Central Bank, members of the Monetary Board, and the members of the Stakeholder Engagement Committee (SEC). The SEC was established in July 2022 amalgamating the former Monetary Policy Consultative Committee (MPCC) and the Financial System Stability Consultative Committee (FSSCC). Moreover, the post of Governor and memberships in the Monetary Board and the Stakeholder Engagement Committee should be openly advertised and recruited and ‘not’ arbitrarily appointed by the President and/or the Governor (in the case of appointments to the Monetary Board & SEC).

While the independence of the Central Bank is sine qua non, there should be necessary checks and balances to prevent abuse of power, corruption, nepotism, and the like in the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in recruitment of staff, consultants, etc., and transparency in the policy-making and decision-making processes. Moreover, Central Bank’s frequent paternalistic diktats to the commercial and specialised banks (including to the private ones, let alone the state-owned banks) and unnecessary interferences in the financial sector in general (under the euphemism of “moral suasion”32) should be tamed (if not done away with) in the proposed new Monetary Law Act (MLA). Every single public authority (e.g., Central Bank Governor, Treasury Secretary, Monetary Board) in Sri Lanka should be made accountable and responsible not only to the parliament, government, and the executive in power, but more so to the general public as well. 

Sri Lanka cannot emerge out the current economic quagmire without broader financial sector reforms such as divestiture of the state-owned commercial banks (People’s Bank and Bank of Ceylon) and specialised banks (National Savings Bank) which function as captive sources for funding public debt (both domestic and external) as well as funding perennially loss-making state-owned utilities (Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB)) and enterprises (SriLankan Airlines, Sri Lanka Railways, Sri Lanka Transport Board, Road Development Authority, etc.). 

According to a report of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) of the parliament of Sri Lanka, state-owned banks (i.e. Bank of Ceylon and People’s Bank) have complained that they have been repeatedly ordered by the Central Bank to fund the CPC and CEB during 2020-2022. Moreover, in the investigations into the Central Bank of Sri Lanka bond scam of 2015, it was revealed how the CBSL coerced the People’s Bank to back off from bidding. The forensic audit report of the CBSL in the aftermath of the bond scam of 2015 is yet to be made public. This kind of non-transparency cannot assuage the domestic markets or potential foreign investors. 

The state-owned banks have also become primary lenders to unscrupulous politicians from all political parties, especially members of parliament and deputy/ministers, who are involved in variety of businesses such as owning liquor shops and fuel stations throughout the country, and involved in construction projects (public works) for public and quasi-public authorities.

We understand that one of the conditions the IMF has put forward for its proposed bailout of Sri Lanka is enaction of a strong anticorruption legislation in parliament. This is just a cosmetic exercise. There are enough laws in Sri Lanka already to arrest corruption; what is lacking is the political and/or administrative WILL to enforce such laws or the law/s are applied only selectively to penalise the political opposition. 

In addition to any new legislation, the IMF should insist that an international forensic audit of the personal finances (bank accounts, movable and immovable property, income tax filings, etc.) of each and every member of parliament (including both government and opposition) and their extended family members, and each and every public servant (especially executive grade) (including armed forces personnel) and their extended family members should be carried out and appropriate legal actions taken if their wealth and income cannot be accounted for or justified.

Even today, under a new Governor and management, some of the actions of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka smack of duplicity and double standards in law enforcement as reflected in the recent permanent “revocation” of the license of the Prasanna_Money_Exchange_Pvt_Ltd33 and merely a temporary “extension of the suspension” of the trading of Perpetual Treasuries Limited34, which was the executor of the Central Bank bond scam of 2015. It is important to note here that the Perpetual Treasuries is owned by the son-in-law of the then (2015) Governor of the Central Bank, Arjuna Mahendran.  

If Angola35, where the Supreme Court in December 2022 ordered the seizure of $ 1 billion worth of assets of the daughter of the former President and freedom fighter Jose Eduardo dos Santos, and Mozambique36, where the Maputo City Court in November 2022 found a son of the former President and 18 other “high profile defendents” guilty of $ 2 billion illicit foreign loan with government guarantee that bankrupted the country could do it, why not Sri Lanka?

Although, in principle, we welcome the public appeal by 182 Economists worldwide37 on 8 January 2023, urging the hedge fund holders of International Sovereign Bonds (ISBs) of Sri Lanka in particular, and of all the third world countries in default in general, to cancel such debt, in practice any such debt cancellation initiative should be conditional upon barring all those politicians, bureaucrats, and professionals who were responsible for the sovereign default (by their actions or inactions) and who were directly or indirectly involved in the Central Bank bond scam and other mega corruption from holding any public office hereafter. If not, any unconditional and unilateral debt cancellations would become a moral hazard for countries such as Sri Lanka. 

Footnotes:

1https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LFQz1Wpqj68_MFVp6tGSRtx7liFBr8H-DFze-1WfLzo/edit.)

2https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10708-015-9637-3

3https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0169796X17735241

4https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Bd9VMNMfAZZEYfiyfP4v6jf8XelKSA0z/edit

5https://www.cepa.lk/events/annual-poverty-symposium/13th-cepa-symposium-post-war-development-in-asia-and-africa/

6https://www.ft.lk/w-a-wijewardena-columns/A-Child-s-Guide-to-Modern-Monetary-Theory-Keynesianism-in-an-old-bottle/885-710459

7https://www.ft.lk/columns/Money-printing-to-repay-Govt-debt-worshipping-MMT-is-likely-to-magnify-economic-instability/4-710612

8https://island.lk/sri-lankas-economic-quagmire-and-how-margret-thatcher-smashed-the-keynesian-consensus/

9https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/wikileaks-bond-issue-2007-unp-will-not-be-able-to-honour-repayment-ranil-wrote-to-jp-morgan-barclays-hsbc/

10https://www.cbsl.gov.lk/sites/default/files/cbslweb_documents/speech_20200828_70th_anniversary_oration.pdf

11https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jSY81CmYvMwQSJ-_z9J5OXyFXuTax9ZWPU5nPZyUMY8/edit

12https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/1999/03/polackov.htm#:~:text=Contingent%20explicit%20liabilities%20are%20legal%20obligations%20for%20governments,on%20future%20government%20finances%2C%20and%20complicate%20fiscal%20analysis.

13https://www.cbsl.gov.lk/sites/default/files/cbslweb_documents/press/pr/press_20120717_democratic_socialist_republic_of_sri_lanka_us%24_1_billion_international_sovereign_bond_issue_e.pdf

14https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vCuAxDR7JGBB6pMD7EuDQ-8ppoChlPeBAvjftytSxsQ/edit

15https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NE.EXP.GNFS.ZS?locations=LK

16https://www.reuters.com/article/srilanka-oil-hedging-idUSL3E8M25SI20121102

17https://www.sundaytimes.lk/120708/news/cabraals-gamble-lanka-loses-billions-in-bankrupt-greece-5565.html

18https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Bank_of_Sri_Lanka_bond_scandal

19https://www.cbsl.gov.lk/sites/default/files/cbslweb_documents/speech_20200828_70th_anniversary_oration.pdf

20https://iris.ucl.ac.uk/iris/publication/1981807/7

21https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/2019-09/cj-v39n3-4.pdf

22https://www.intereconomics.eu/pdf-download/year/2021/number/6/article/modern-monetary-theory-a-wrong-compass-for-decision-making.html

23https://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-weakness-of-modern-monetary-theory

24https://www.elgaronline.com/view/journals/roke/8-4/roke.2020.04.02.xml

25https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11293-021-09713-6

26https://www.ft.lk/Columnists/MMT-What-s-wrong-with-printing-money/42-711087

27https://island.lk/cabraal-no-relationship-between-money-printing-and-rupee-depreciation/

28https://www.cbsl.gov.lk/sites/default/files/cbslweb_documents/press/pr/press_20210112_unwarranted_rating_action_by_S%26P_e.pdf

29https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/is-the-world-economy-going-back-to-the-1970s/21805260

30https://www.ft.lk/columns/Budget-2022-What-s-the-missing-link/4-726282

31https://www.bis.org/publ/othp04.pdf

32https://www.jstor.org/stable/134345

33https://www.cbsl.gov.lk/sites/default/files/cbslweb_documents/press/pr/Press_20221212_Revocation_of_the_money_changing_permit_issued_to_Prasanna_Money_Exchange_Pvt_Ltd_e.pdf

34https://www.cbsl.gov.lk/en/node/13817

35https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/12/28/angolan-court-orders-seizure-of-dos-santoss-assets-lusa-news-agency

36https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/11/30/mozambique-court-hands-out-verdicts-in-2bn-corruption-case

37https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/jan/08/hedge-funds-holding-up-vital-debt-relief-for-crisis-hit-sri-lanka-warn-economists

No Peaceful Multipolar World Anytime Soon: Underestimating US Power is Dangerous

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5 mins read

“If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.” Sun Tzu

But it turns out there isn’t really any military threat by the United states. Not only [has the U.S] and NATO run out of normal military arms, but America really can’t mount a land war anymore. There will never be another Vietnam. There will never be the United States invading another country, or Europe invading any other country, because you’ll never get a population willing to be drafted, [since] the anti-war movement. And without that, America has only one military leader against other countries: the hydrogen bomb. There is nothing in between a targeted assassination attempt and an atom bomb.” Michael Hudson &Radhika Desai

Both [Russia and China] are strong — and Russia is more advanced technologically than China in their advanced offensive and defensive missile development, and can beat the US in a nuclear war as Russian air space is sealed by layered defenses such as the S-400 all the way to the already tested S-500s and designed S-600s….Beijing’s strategic priority has been to carefully develop a remarkably diverse set of energy-suppliers. If China has so far proven masterly in the way it has played its cards in its Pipelineistan “war,” the US hand — bypass Russia, elbow out China, isolate Iran — may soon be called for what it is: a bluff.Pepe Escobar

****

Come on, Russia “can beat the US in a nuclear war.” Really? Even President Valdimir Putin decried the use of nuclear weapons. According to Reuters, “Putin said…there could be no winners in a nuclear war and no such war should ever be started.”  For how  nuclear war between the two nation states might pan out go visit Princeton University’s Science and Global Security website. There you will find an unsettling computer simulation known as PLAN A that assesses “the consequences of nuclear war under different assumptions. Attack scenarios are constrained by the size and capabilities of existing arsenals and weapons systems including delivery vehicle range, the footprint of the Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV) that carry nuclear weapons on ballistic missiles, and hard target kill capability. The simulation tool incorporates an atmospheric transport model to assess nuclear fallout for each attack scenario.

TheNord Stream pipelines have been destroyed. My guess is that it was US Navy DEVGRU guys and a Virginia Class submarine that carried them in. Right up their alley. That was no bluff, I think.

There is no antiwar movement in  the United States that has any influence on US military or political actions. But there are soldiers who are bored, doing drugs and aching for war.  “This is what happens when there is no war, no direction, and an 18-month red cycle with no mission,” a Special Forces soldier said. “So dudes are fucking around…and the craziest drugs. All these lives ruined because people are just bored.”ConnectingVeterans

That young soldier may not have long to wait to cure his boredom on the battlefield killing “the other” in Ukraine.

Cracks in the BRICS

Multipolarity? Belt and Road Initiative? Forget about it for now, or for the foreseeable future. For those notions to be birthed a global war will have to take place to dislodge the United States.

The BRICS? Consider that Brazil has severe internal problems: poverty chief amongst them. There is also the threat of a coup and so it could be tough for the new president (Lula) to hang on. How about China? I doubt it as China fears a confrontation with United States, as it is a large holder of US Treasury notes. If a war came, they would never receive their payout. Further, China has not fought any major wars recently and thus their military is untested. Already, the US is crushing their semiconductor chip market through economic warfare.

India? They have a long standing territorial rivalry with China and are very wary of Chinese espionage and instigating on its borders. India’s poverty level is off the charts, compared to Brazil’s. It may be the largest democracy on the planet but it society still runs a caste system and tensions between religious sects (Hindi, Islam) is a real problem. And let’s not forget about Kashmir. According to Wikipedia, “Today, the term encompasses a larger area that includes the Indian-administered territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the Pakistani-administered territories of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, and the Chinese-administered territories of Aksai Chin and the Trans-Karakoram Tract.”

And Russia? Well, it is already fighting United States’ weapons systems, operational contractors, ISR aircraft, CIA operatives, and US defense contractors/mercenaries. When the US sets up a no-fly zone over Western and then Eastern Ukraine, it’ll be just a couple of steps, or mistakes, until full scale ground combat between the US and Russia takes place. Already, there are reports that the US is considering arming Ukraine with long range missiles that can reach Crimea. Russia stands alone against the West, a west that does not understand that Russians view the war as an existential crisis. Their way of life is threatened. And the Satanic hatred that Americans and Europeans have toward Russia is astonishing but it is engendered by Western governments and their hatred is broadcast by the MSM, an MSM which is owned by wealthy corporations, who, in fact, tell their populations how to think.

The US Military Just Sits Around?

So, according to critics, the US government/military is a ghost of itself and unprepared for industrial war and/or a per opponent. Let’s check that assumption out. We’ll turn to the US Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) “Renewed Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense—Issues for Congress”

US defense strategy is currently designed to prevent “the emergence of regional hegemons in Eurasia.” That strategy is based on US policy maker’s assessments (dating back to President Obama’s administration) that Eurasia is not “self-regulating” in that the countries of Eurasia can’t be relied upon to use their forces to stop a country that wants to dominate the region. That is viewed as a threat to US policymakers. For example; if China wanted to control, by force, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, who would rally to stop them? Would the Shanghai Cooperation Organization step in the way? No, the USA would.

So, the US defense department’s force structure is designed based on a “policy decision” made in Washington, to inhibit by threat or action an attempt by China or Russia to overrun other nations in Eurasia or the Pacific (think Taiwan). That means it has the capability to deploy military assets far afield from the US mainland (and from forward bases; e.g., Qatar, Bahrain). The package includes long range bombers like the B-2 and B-52; a naval battle group that includes, for example, a Nimitz Class carrier, Virginia Class submarines; Aegis warships; troop transports by air (C-10) and sea (Marine amphibious assault ships), ISR capabilities (RC-135V, satellites and drones).

Fighting Russians in the American Desert

For the past few years now the United States has emphasized planning that focuses on high-end conventional warfare, according to CRS. “Many DOD acquisitions, exercises and warfighting experiments have been initiated, accelerated, increased in scope, given higher priority, or had their continuation justified as consequence of the renewed US emphasis on high-end warfare.” For example, a warfighting experiment is taking place at the US Army’s Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert. A mockup of an urban town you might find in Ukraine , along with open terrain that surrounds the town, has been built. The Red Team uses Russian tactics to try and defeat the US Blue Team using its combined armed tactics (drones and electronic warfare are a key part of the exercise).

A peaceful multipolar world? I don’t think so.

Russia can’t create one alone.

Russia is as ready as it can be for the US boots on the ground in Ukraine. It will stand alone while its “friends” watch. And the USA knows for the first time in decades it will have to fight to get to the fight. Hard times ahead.

It is going to be a violent road to get to a multipolar world where nations don’t act ruthlessly in their own interests. I wish I could live to see how it all ends. Don’t we all?

Find and Read Please, Dig Deeper

How the US military is shaping the environment for Ukraine and wider war: Military Information Support Operations, MISO, Joint Publication 3-13.2

The US has astronomical power. Study them here: Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare. FM 3‐05.130

What does Ranil Wickremasinghe have up his sleeve? 

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9 mins read

Whatever it is, equipped with his education, native intelligence and acquired political wisdom, he will be able to hold the country whole until it passes lawfully into the hands of the uncorrupt patriotic young generation that is waiting in the wings in patient silence (not into those of the ignorant noisy buffoons in the ‘aragalaya‘). 

A number of sacrilegious attacks have been made in recent times on the Sri Dalada (the Sacred Tooth Relic) in Kandy, astonishingly by some Buddhists. The two most recent instances are: Sepala Amerasinghe, an elderly YouTuber, committing repeated verbal sacrilege by calling the Tooth Relic a ‘labba’ (an impolite word implying a pendant male sexual organ) in his videos; the other instance may be described as a form of desecration of the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy where the the Tooth Relic is housed: a kind of faith-healing veda mahattaya/native physician (a notorious charlatan and a crooked businessman according to social media accounts) by the name of Janaka C. Senadhipathi is building at Potuhera, Kurunegala, an unauthorized replica of the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, claiming that the sacred relic will be miraculously transported to his new shrine from the Kandy Sri Dalada Maligawa, which according to him, is polluted by the materialistic corruption of its present custodians). It is ironic that these acts take place (by design or coincidence) only a few days after president Ranil Wickremesinghe showed his desire to have a special exposition of the Dalada ahead of the next independence day due to be held in February. The president is obviously hoping to achieve something of tremendous importance for the nation that he seems to think is significant enough to be celebrated with a Dalada exhibition. What this epoch making development probably is not a mystery to adult Sri Lankans who have some idea about the dynamics of post-independence politics in Sri Lanka. It must be something to do with the final settlement of the so-called Tamil national problem or the implementation of 13A+.

This confronts the nation with a dilemma concerning Ranil Wickremesinghe as everybody’s  (225 in parliament’s and the general public’s) refuge/saviour: it is the general public perception that, at this moment, there is no political leader who can at least try to bring about some sort of economic stability to the country except Ranil Wickremasinghe. But will he be able to garner enough parliamentary support to implement 13A+? To compound the confusion, there is the problem of holding the lawfully scheduled local government elections, the likely result of which will not strengthen the mutually dependent parliament+president combine, nor benefit the nation economically or politically. The people will question: Why are you so particular about sticking to the electoral laws at this critical juncture where the flagrant violation of other existing vital laws such as the antiquities ordinances has introduced a previously non-existent religious and racial dimension to the country’s political divisions? But be that as it may. Let’s return to our present topic.

Since the arrival of the Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka in the 4th century CE (this is well recorded in the Mahavamsa and other chronicles), a tradition evolved according to which the ruler of the island acquired the legitimacy of his sovereignty by virtue of the possession of the sacred relic. The Dalada was held in a shrine within the palace complex. The shrine itself later came to be called ‘Maligawa’ or palace, the residence of the king, because of this connection between sovereignty and the sacred relic. Due to this reason, the Dalada was subject to changing hands between external invaders or internal rivals and the reigning monarchs in troublous times, as happened several times before the European advent in the island and after. The desacralization of the sacred relic and the attempted dilution of the sanctity of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy could be premeditated. Though it is  well known that the Dalada has neither any connection with, nor bears any responsibility for, the current economic and political crises, it has become a target for attack concerning even natural disasters. Sepala Amerasinghe mentioned above, before calling the Dalada a ‘labba’ for which offence he has been arrested and remanded till January 17, blamed the recent floods in Kandy caused by heavy rain on the ‘kunu datha’ (rotten tooth) in one of his videos. This was an oblique reference to the traditionally held belief among Buddhists that the Dalada has rain making powers. Such beliefs (and relic worship itself for that matter) are not found in Theravada Buddhism, but are imports from the Mahayana tradition which are now part of the local Buddhist religious culture.

So there seems to be a deliberate attempt by certain inimical forces  to dilute or totally negate the symbolic power of the Sacred Tooth Relic for the majority Sinhalese Buddhist polity. It is the bounden duty of the government on behalf of all concerned citizens to investigate what sinister force is behind these incidents and take remedial action. But there are no blasphemy laws in Buddhism. When a TouTuber brought the ‘kunu data’ insult to their notice by phone, the Anu Nayake Theras of both Malwatte showed little concern about it. It was when several concerned lay Buddhists complained to them again about Sepala Amerasinghe repeatedly making sacrilegious statements that the Mahanayake Theras and the Diyawadana Nilame, the guardian of the Maligawa, wrote to the president about it.

Incidentally, Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to be lurking protectively behind Senadhipathi. The former’s erstwhile sidekick Mervin Silva visited Potuhera, and ordered the demolition of the front part of the building in question, declaring that there should be only one Dalada Maligawa, the one in Kandy and that the rest of structures in the place must remain. Mervin Silva was reported to have threatened with death social activist Nilantha Ranasinghe who had raised the issue in public and exposed Senadhipathi’s questionable activities with audio, video and print evidence. Mervin Silva told another YouTuber (named Chaturanga Bandara) that Mahinda Rajapaksa phoned him to thank him for what he did.)  Mahinda exploited the nationalist groundswell to sweep the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary elections against the previous infamous yahapalanaya led by prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and president Maithripala Sirisena; but he totally betrayed that victory through the entrenched corruption he supported among his stooges and his own obsession with dynastic rule, which ultimately brought repeatedly rejected Ranil Wickremasinghe to the helm. Mahinda seems to have so morally weakened in parallel with his obvious physical degeneration as to make a futile attempt to salvage his lost popularity among the Buddhist voters by championing fake ‘Bosath’ Janaka Senadhipathi, with the help of thuggish Mervin. 

To return to the beginning, the media reported (December 24, 2022) that a request that president Ranil Wickremasinghe made for a special exposition of the Sacred Tooth Relic before February 2023 when Sri Lanka completes seventy-five years of independence did not get a positive response from either of the two Ven. Mahanayake Theras of the Siam Nikaya, Malwatte and Asgiriya, in Kandy, who are joint custodians of the Sri Dalada Maligawa. The president’s request was conveyed to the prelates in a letter from him personally delivered to them by prime minister Dinesh Gunawardane, who expressly called on them for the purpose. The Malwatte prelate, according to the news reports, suggested that the PM should approach the Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera about this as it is the latter’s turn at the moment to be in charge of the service at the Dalada Maligawa. When the premier visited the  Asgiriya Mahanayake Thera with the president’s proposal or appeal, the latter wonderingly asked him  if a Tooth Relic exposition at this juncture wasn’t a difficult task to perform.

With hindsight one would hazard a guess that the two Buddhist prelates of the Siam Nikaya, namely the Most Venerable Thibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thera of the Malwatte Chapter and the Most Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter, especially the former, might accommodate the presidential wish, if  Buddhist public opinion also favours it. There are two other nikayas, Ramanna and Amarapura, which signed an agreement to merge in August 2019; the expected merger was a step in the right direction, for the Maha Sangha unity is indispensable for the survival of the Buddhasasanaya as a religious cultural establishment. The living component of the Buddhasasanaya is the ‘sivvanak pirisa’ or the fourfold community of male and female bhikshus and male and female lay Buddhists. This is not a political entity, but a religious one, though it needs state protection (just as it enjoyed full royal patronage under Sinhala kings before the time of foreign invasions); in this, the Sinhala Buddhist community  is not different from other religious communities. (In Sri Lanka, 70% of the ethnically and religiously diverse total population comprise Buddhists.) No religion is more compatible with the best form of government evolved to date, democracy than Buddhism, though it is not your average religion. Bhikkhus and Bhikshunis may personally hold different political views, and even exercise their voting rights as they please, as citizens, but it is not proper for them to engage in partisan politics, because that would definitely cause divisions within the fourfold community of Buddhists. The clergy must leave active politics involving campaigning and electioneering entirely to the lay Buddhists. May the Mahanayakes have the wisdom to tell the president not to desecrate the Sri Dalada by dragging it into politics.

However, traditionally and historically, Buddhist monks have wielded great power over the Buddhist community including the rulers. Currently though, they are becoming increasingly powerless, mainly because of their meddling in politics, patronizing corrupt politicians, and also because of the Mahanayake Theras’ incomprehensible inaction and disunity. President Wickremesinghe’s seemingly cynical suggestion must be viewed in this context. Is he, through having a special Tooth Relic exposition held to coincide with the implementation of whatever solution he proposes to the Tamil ethnic problem, trying to make palatable to the Sinhala Buddhist majority something they would not normally look upon with favour. Is he bringing back an earlier unpopular deal that sent him and his party home at the hustings? But Ranil is too intelligent to repeat past errors.

I am tempted to say this because Ranil Wickremesinghe, unlike his predecessors Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, does not usually make a show of unfelt religious piety for hoodwinking the masses. If he wants, he uses religion in a more street-smart way. Unlike the latter duo again, he is no religious hypocrite; he doesn’t even care to show if he is really a Buddhist (which of course is right, and befits a genuine Buddhist). The important thing, I think, is that he seems to know that ordinary Buddhist voters, true to their faith, do not worry too much about whether he is a Buddhist or a non-Buddhist. (Unfortunately, however, global scale media distortion against them demonizes Sinhalese Buddhists as racist chauvinists and religious fanatics simply because circumstances force them to raise their voice when their human rights are violated by others (such as unethical conversion of Buddhists, encroachment or vandalizing or desecration of Buddhist archaeological sites, deliberate distortion of historical and Buddhist doctrinal facts).

What is happening in Sri Lanka in this respect, hardly recognized or taken seriously by the global powers that be, is doubtlessly a crime against humanity carried out by an externally well funded medley of subversive organizations and individuals, that is getting more and more explicit and more and more overpowering in the Sri Lanka’s present economically and politically debilitated situation. It can be argued that the same forces that are behind this insidious barbarity are at least partly responsible for worsening the political and economic maelstrom that is currently engulfing Sri Lanka, despite the abundance of  rich natural resources and the  high quality of the human resources locally available, both of which its citizens can be justly proud of.

For president Wickremasinghe to want a special Dalada exposition he must be contemplating to consecrate, as it were, something momentous like a nationally important historic event concurrently with government celebrations that will mark the completion of seventy-five years of independence (whatever the last word is held to mean) from British colonial occupation. When it comes to true freedom from Britain, we believe that the 1948 independence was eclipsed by the promulgation of the republican constitution in 1972 under the United Front government of Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike. Yet, it looks like that Wickremasinghe wants to return to the Western fold by ignoring the 1972 change, which was not supported by the Illankei Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Lanka Tamil Kingdom/State Party/or misleadingly called the Federal Party in English) founded in 1949 by S.J.V. Chelvanayagam, an immigrant Tamil from Malaysia. (The clamour for a separate state for Tamils started soon after the grant of so-called independence, which was actually nothing more than dominion status. The 1972 declaration of Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was until then known among foreigners and English speaking locals) as a republic severed that last link with the  British empire.

 Sri Lankans are a democratic people. Ranil Wickremesinghe or any other political leader could easily accommodate the legitimate interests of the global and regional superpowers that the country’s geographical location makes it obligatory for it to satisfy, if he did it with the people’s full democratic approval, while at the same time preserving their national dignity, sovereignty and independence.     

When in 2019 Wickremesinghe and the UNP that he still leads got kicked out of parliament, he had spent forty-two years in that august body as elected member serving repeatedly in responsible senior positions over that long period as cabinet minister, opposition leader, and prime minister, and now as president at least by default. Ranil Wickremasinghe the politician has nothing more to win or lose in his life; he has nothing to look forward to, except perhaps a dignified obituary. But he suddenly finds ‘greatness thrust upon him’ by a strange turn of events in a context where  Sri Lankans of all religious and political persuasions are up against the wall economically and politically. The Sinhalese Buddhists, in addition to this adverse global predicament experienced, not only in Sri Lanka, but across most of the world outside, are simply facing a form of cultural genocide as argued above. It is expediently connived at by our corrupt traitorous self-seeking politicians and blithely indulged by an apparently unconcerned, blissfully ignorant Maha Sangha.

Ranil Wickremasinghe can still use his intellectual superiority and political acumen to rescue our nation.

Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka; Is it an Upshot of Free Education System? – Part II

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This is the second and last part of this series, click here to read the first part. ~ edits

Rebellion in 1971- A Consequential Impact of Free Education

However, the failure and the delay in resolving the unemployment problem became significant causes of the first youth uprise (JVP movement in 1971) against the newly established United Front government. This insurgency movement was led by the unemployed graduates and educated youths of the Sinhala community, especially the rural youths. No Tamil youths took part in this rebellion. The unemployment problem would not have been a significant issue, or their leaders would have diverted emerging frustration to a different direction to carve out a separate Tamil country.

After defeating the insurgency movement, the government implemented many socio-economic reforms hurriedly based on the lessons learned. Various reforms in the education sector, including standardisation of marks for university entrance, changing the school curriculums, land reforms, nationalisation of foreign investments, employment generation scheme to reduce rural unemployment (Divisional Development Council Projects), agriculture reforms, import restriction to boost the local production were a few of them.

These programs were done in a hurry, but the government and the country needed more resources, capacity, and preparedness to address those issues reasonably, equitably, and sustainably simultaneously. As discussed before, since the 1960s, the Sinhala community, and the educated youth, have been agitating to regain the socio-economic opportunities they had lost during the colonial period (ethnic imbalance in education and public administration).

Discrimination against Tamil Vs. Favouritism for Sinhalese

The policy of standardising university entrance was introduced in 1971. Under this, a quota system, using the language of the university entrance examination as the parameter, was introduced to correct the historically existing ethnic imbalance. The number of allocations for university entrance was proportional to the number of participants who sat for the examination in each language. Also, considering the long-felt grievance of Sinhala stunts (i.e., lack of opportunities for admission to faculties of engineering, medicine, and science), a lower mark system was introduced for Sinhalamedium students for those subjects. The new system discriminated against Tamil medium students and favoured Sinhala medium students. Tamil Medium quota dropped to the bare minimum. While correcting the ethnic imbalance in general, the limited allocation made available to Tamil medium students was mainly enjoyed by students at reputed schools in Jaffna city. The Sinhala language quota was also mainly enjoyed by students at reputable schools in Colombo. It defeated the original policy objective of expanding higher education facilities to low-income families and rural areas. In 1972, a district quota system within each language was added to the parameter to correct this anomaly.

Before the introduction of the language-based standardisation system, the Tamil community enjoyed the lion’s share of opportunities for science subjects in university education. According to 1969 figures,27.5 % of the university entrance to science base faculties such as medicine, engineering, physical science, bioscience, etc., had been enjoyed by the Northern Province, which is predominantly populated by Ceylon Tamils who comprised only11% of the country’s population. Out of the balance, 72.5%, a significant share (67.5 %) had been enjoyed by the Western Province, which is open for elites of all ethnic groups, leaving only 5% for the majority rural Sinhalese and most of the rural/poor Tamils. After adding the district quota system, 1974 figures show the Northern Province’s share of science education was reduced from 27.5% to 7%. Also, the share of Western province declined from 67.5% to 27%, demonstrating a better distribution of science-based higher education opportunities among rural regions and a relatively higher percentage for rural Sinhalese. The system favoured the backward regions for science education and affected urban elites of all communities. But favouring the Sinhala medium students in university entrance and science education adversely affected all Tamil groups regardless of their social status. It caused severe frustration among all Tamils.

Since the independence, Tamil political leaders have fought for a separate Tamil country but could not mobilise mass support from their community. As a result of the above standardisation system, they got a perfect tool to articulate the interest of Tamilyouthsto fight for a separate Tamil country. Moreover, before 1970, Tamil political parties had good bargaining power with successive governments, as none of the ruling parties had a significant majority in the parliament. However, SLFP led United Front in the 1970 general election, and UNP in the 1977 general election got an overwhelming majority in the parliament. Therefore, those two governments could ignore Tamil parties and their demands. As a result, Tamil-dominated areas of the country lost political patronage and bargaining power in government-sponsored development programs. All of these contributed to emerging radical groups, and many started advocating violence to win the Tamil Country of Elam.

Under this scenario, Tamil youths may have thought winning a separate country for Tamils would resolve their unemployment and other economic problems. Perhaps, their traditional political leaders may have planned to use these groups (educated unemployed and lower strata of the society) as a cat’s paw to carve out a separate Tamil country and enjoy the feudal socio-political power and enjoy the Tamil Vellala Cast supremacy.

The language-based standardising system for university entrance was abolished in 1977 and introduced a new approach based on merits and district quotas for less developed districts. It ensured the fair distribution of opportunities among all districts. Jaffna and Colombo benefitted from the merits system, while Tamil and Sinhala Communities in remote areas benefited from district quotas. Though the mistake was corrected later, the distrust between the two communities remained unresolved.

Is Tamil A Recognized Language In Sri Lanka?

With the introduction of the Free Education bill in the State Council in 1943, teaching in vernacular (Sinhala or Tamil) in government schools became compulsory. The government had legally accepted Vernacular education since the Colebrook commission’s recommendation in 1841 and has given equal status to both Sinhala and Tamil languages in education. As discussed, a small percentage of government grants were available to vernacular schools. Any person to be fully qualified in the national examination of the ‘General Certificate of Education (Ordinary Level),’ a credit pass in the mother tongue is compulsory. Sinhala and Tamil languages are contemporaries as mediums of instruction in Sri Lankan universities.  Also, according to a circular issued by the Department of Education in the year 2000, the Tamil language is a compulsory subject for all Sinhala medium schools from grade 1 to grade 9.

Tamil Nadu is predominantly a Tamil State in India, and apparently, it is the motherland or original homeland for the Tamil people and the Language. According to the 2001 Census, Tamil is spoken as the first language by 88.59% of the Tamil Nadu population. However, Tamil Nadu Tamil Learning Act was passed very recently in 2006. According to this Act, State Board and Matriculation Schools had to teach Tamil as a compulsory subject from Class 1 in a phased manner, gradually scaling up to Class 10.  However, it was not fully implemented due to various objections, and now it is rescheduled to be completed by 2025. But Sri Lanka has been given equal opportunity for Sinhala and Tamil languages in education since the establishment of formal education under the recommendation of the Colebrook Commission in 1841.

Tamil Nadu Official Language Act -1956, which is an Act to provide for the adoption of Tamil as the language to be used for the official purposes of the State of Tamil Nadu, became effective in July 1958.  It is not a national language that can be used all over India for official purposes. But according to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, both Tami and Sinhala are official National languages with equal status all over the country since 1987. Even without a constitutional provision, the government used Sinhala and Tamil to communicate with people and judicial matters before 1987. Today any Tamil-speaking person who lives in any part of the country has the legal right to communicate with the government in the Tamil Language. According to the language policy since 2000, all public servants must be competent in the second language within five years of joining the service. Under these circumstances, as an official language, Tamil has better recognition in Sri Lanka than in Tamil Nadu, India.

 Free Education And Terrorism Contributed ToDenude Educated From the North

Long before bearing the fruits of the free education system in the country, the Jaffna peninsula was inundated with professionals in all fields (doctors, engineers, accountants, scientists, mathematicians, etc.). Sometimes, government institutions in Jaffna were overstaffed with those specialities or had more than required due to various socio-political reasons. After retirement, most professionals who worked in Colombo or other parts of the country and abroad went back to Jaffna to spend their retirement life. Consequently, some local government institutions, community-based organisations, farmer organisations, and co-operative societies were handled by highly educated retired professionals, and those institutions became very successful. Jaffna became the hub of knowledge in then Ceylon. However, Due to the terrorist movement, the process started reversing. Educated/rich People who had the capacity and resources migrated to other countries, and others settled in and around Colombo. In contrast to the situation before the 1980s, today, many Tamils do not wish to settle down in Jaffna after their retirement but want to stay in Colombo and its sub-urban areas. 

After the 1980s, those who achieved success through free education did not wish to go to their hometowns in the north due to terrorism and the existing social stratifications.  Even today, the professionals of low strata of society, who are nationally and internationally recognised, can’t receive due recognition and respect in their hometowns. Therefore, they prefer to work and stay in Colombo or other main cities or leave the country. Under these circumstances, free education helped some poor people succeed in their personal lives, but not many benefits to the community. Free education has induced denuding educated intellectuals from Tamil-dominated areas. The trend and the process that existed during the golden era of Jaffna have now been reversed.

 Young and middle-aged people who live in the North today have been influenced by terrorist ideology and have experienced the sufferings of war for 30 years(dying in cold blood, the shock of bombs, firing and fighting, abduction of children to be trained as terrorists, living with fear, hard life). During this period, they have seen only the armed soldiers as “Sinhala people” and have not seen Sinhala civilians. Terrorists and non-governmental organisations who occupied the area during the war taught the children that ‘Sinhalese is a dangerous group of invaders who have come from somewhere to destroy Tamil country. For them, the word ‘Sinhala’ has a connotation of the enemy to be got rid of.

As discussed so far, the free education system introduced in 1945 has been followed by a series of subsequent reforms, which resulted in changes in the entire social fabric within 2 to 3 decades with many positive and negative results.

Positive Impacts

  • The adult literacy level of the country increased to 97% as of 2019, which is above the regional and world average
  • All parents realised the value of education, and children’s education became the highest priority of almost all families in the country.
  • Students qualified in secondary education (GCE- O/L and A/L) and University graduates are found in many rural areas, especially from low-income families, regardless of their caste, class, or ethnicity.
  • Inherent intelligence became the most important factor for acquiring knowledge and upward mobility in society and the economy, instead of ethnicity, caste, class, and wealth. Even a child of the lowest strata of society can now climb up to the top of professionalism.
  • The presence of Sinhala students in universities and public service increased rapidly. The Sinhala community progressively started acquiring the due share of opportunities they had lost during the colonial period. But the thirty-year war has brought disproportionate benefits to Sinhalese and lost the expected share of Tamils. While addressing the long-standing grievances of Sinhalese, it created a new set of problems leading to frustration and dissatisfaction among the Tamil community.
  • Rural youths found new avenues for more remunerative jobs outside the village without confining themselves to their parents’ low profitable traditional livelihoods. That contributed immensely to poverty alleviation.
  • With the Sinhala-speaking people in the public service and Sinhala being the official language, the Sinhala community felt more comfortable dealing with the bureaucracy, but Tamils found it challenging.
  • The transfer of technology at the local level became more convenient due to improved literacy and knowledge.

Negative Impacts

  1.  Even today, most secondary schools still need facilities and resources for science and technical education. Most educated youths, including university graduates, were qualified in humanities without employment-oriented knowledge and skills. Their expectation is white-collar jobs. But such opportunities are limited in the job market and create a high rate of educated youth unemployment. Every child and parent trusts that education is the only way to find decent employment. Unfortunately, what they have learned for many years does not help them to find such jobs.
  2. Since the late 1960s, educated youths’ unemployment has become a recurring social and political issue. This contributed significantly to the 1971 and 1987 Sinhala youth uprisings and fuelling the LTTE terrorism in the North of the country.
  3. Under this scenario, inter and intra-community completion has emerged for the limited job opportunities in the public sector and free university education. Elites observed an intense competition for their children from the educated youths of low-income families to enter public sector jobs. Also, sometimes, in competitive examinations, children of low-income families perform better, depriving the elites. The intra-community conflict was more prominent among Tamils, as elites were reluctant to compete with the oppressed segment of the society. Instead, they prefer to study in the USA or Europe.
  4. In addition to the competition within the community, the Tamil community, in general, faced extreme competition from the Sinhala Communitysincethe 1960s. When English was the medium of education and the official language, the Tamil community enjoyed a higher percentage of higher education, professions such as medicine, engineering, accounting, science, mathematics, and public service in general. Being less than 11 % of the total population, they were over-represented in many fields and played a dominant role in almost every aspect of governance. Under the reform agendas, the Sinhala community’s participation in all fields increased rapidly, resulting in the loss of opportunities that the Tamils had enjoyed for decades.
  5. Today, the Tamil community in the North and East has become less competitive and less represented in higher education and public service due to the 30-year prolonged terrorist movement.
  6.  Many Tamil students who performed very well In GCE (A/L) had been deprived of science-based university studies due to the language-based standardisation of marks for university entrance, introduced in the early 1970s. Though this short-sighted discriminatory policy was corrected within four years, the hostile attitude created against the Sinhala community is yet to be reconciled.
  7. After 1956, Sinhala became the official language, and public servants were compelled to be conversant in the Sinhala language. Some public servants from all communities who did not want to learn Sinhala started leaving public service. The vacuums created in such events were also filled by the Sinhala community resulting in a further reduction of Tamil presence in the public service.

Summary and Conclusion

Most National and International writers have interpreted that the Education sector reforms in independent Sri Lanka have been targeted toward depriving or harassing the Tamil minority.  But it is a gross misinterpretation of the good works done by successive governments to mainstream the country’s hitherto isolated and oppressed majority. Education in vernacular and changing the official language from English to Sinhala was resented by the affluent class of all ethnic groups (Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay, Catholic, etc.) because they wanted to enjoy the benefit of independence by themselves without passing it to the poor and the oppressed majority of Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, and Catholics. They wanted only to transfer the power from White Westerners to Westernised Browns. Westernised Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim Elites wanted to use Sinhala/Tamil Speaking un-educated or less-educated majority to maintain a feudal system. According to the elites, the vernacular-educated orvernacular-speakinglot is not cultured (Godayas or Biyas). Vernaculars are to communicate with domestic servants. The voting against Act No. 5 of 1960 for the nationalisation of private schools by the then United National Party and Federal party is clear evidence.  Unfortunately, international writers do not hear the voice of the oppressed groups who have benefitted from the education sector reforms. They hear only the voice of the loser elites. 

The free education system and the government’s taking over private schools greatly benefited non-English-speaking, poor Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslims, and Catholics, who accounted for 90% of the country’s population.

Changing the official language from English to Sinhala did not negatively affect poor and ordinary Tamils because they did understand either Sinhala or English. As the medium of instruction had been changed from English to vernacular, changing the official language from English to vernacular was the need of the day. However, in 1956, Sinhala made the official language, ignoring Tamil, which is a severe mistake. But, compared to Tamil Nadu State in India, Sri Lanka has accorded higher recognition for Tamil as an official language and medium of education.

Early implementation of the Free Education Ordinance- of 1943 has done social justice to the poor of all communities and added immense value to their lives. However, accepting the vernacular as the medium of instruction has done irreparable damage to the education system and socioeconomic advancement of educated individuals and the country. Instead of changing to vernacular, priority should have been given to producing teachers who could teach in English at the inception. The vernacular should have been introduced as a subject.

Language-based standardisation was done purposely to increase the Sinhala student population in universities, especially for science-based studies, since most Sinhala schools did not have facilities for science education. However, it was implemented only for four years. Except that, all other reforms were targeted towards benefiting the country’s deprived majority (90%), regardless of ethnicity or religion. Number wise increased presence of the Sinhala community in higher education and public service is inevitable when equal opportunities are provided, as they are much of the country. It should have been understood as regaining rights by Sinhalese, which they had lost during the colonial period, and acquiring their due share as per the population size.

During the colonial period, schools were established based on religion, race, or language. The expansion of the number of secondary schools in 1960 was also preceded by the same line, paving the way for nurturing racialist ideologies since childhood. This is detrimental to national integration and nation-building. According to the above discussions, it is evident that the conflict was not much among ethnic groups but mainly between the privileged minority and the oppressed majority.

The Marxist political and economic ideology penetrated the Sinhala society in the 1930s and became more visible after the 1956 political change. Therefore, Sinhala elites could not openly resist/react against the reforms as social awakening had created solid political pressure. But well-educated and knowledgeable Tamil elites did not accept the defeat and gave an ethnic interpretation to all the above reforms. Tamil leaders mobilised oppressed and suppressed groups against the Sinhala-dominated governments. Interestingly, the problem of educated youth unemployment has been perceived/ interpreted in two extremely different ways by the two communities. While Sinhala Community understood it as a national economic problem, the Tamil community understood or wanted to understand it as a specific political problem related only to the Tamil ethnicity.

As a result of half a century-long struggle for an unwarranted issue, infused by traditional Tamil leaders (to regularise and continue disproportionate privileges enjoyed during the colonial period), the present generation of Sri Lankan Tamils has inherited numerous social and political, administrative, and economic problems. In contrast to the golden era of Tamils, they are now less competitive and under-represented in many aspects. According to several discussions I had with Jaffna, Kilinochchi, and Vavuniya in 20019, correcting these evils is the ‘reconciliation and accountability expected by the ordinary Tamils.

Concluded

Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka; Is it an Upshot of Free Education System? – Part I

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According to recorded history, the education system in Sri Lanka commenced after the arrival of Buddhism in the 3rd BC. Since then, it has evolved parallel to the expansion of Buddhism in the country.  This education system focused on studying religion (Buddhism) using Sanskrit and Pali languages and, to a lesser degree Hela Basha (as early Buddhist Commentaries or Hela Atuwa had been written in vernacular language). Subsequently, Sinhala became a medium of education in Privena (Buddhist Monasteries). However, like English in the modern world, Paali and Sanskrit were the elites’ languages and symbols of knowledge in the olden days. Ancient education was mainly targeted at Buddhist priests, Royal families, and nobles who were expected to be ruling class members. This education facility was provided by Pirivenas, primarily located on Buddhist temple premises, and teaching Buddhism was its main undisputed task. However, the knowledge required to maintain the socio-economic and political system of the day, such as astrology, medicine, governing principles, judicial matters, and military science, was also taught. Today, the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka assures the right to universal and equal access to education to persons at all levels and eradicates illiteracy. The average adult literacy rate in Sri Lanka was 97% in 2019, above the world and regional averages. Sri Lanka has a very high unemployment rate among youths who have completed secondary and university education.

Modern Education System in Ceylon- Favouritism

Christian Missionaries introduced Sri Lanka’s modern education system in the 19th century during the colonial period. Missionaries became very active in education in Colombo, Jaffna, and a few other main cities, mainly located in coastal areas. Missionaries played a prominent role in education in Jaffna peninsula due to contributory factors such as:

  1. Relatively a high density of Christian/ Catholic population in the Peninsula.
  2.  Even before the British period, Portuguese and Dutch missionaries had started the modern education system in Jaffna to train people to spread Christianity and participate in the administration.
  3. Due to the scarcity of natural resources in the peninsula, Tamils considered education an alternative for economic well-being and prioritised it.
  4. Sinhalese and Muslims were more interested in agriculture and trade, respectively, and had little interest in government employment. Hence, they did not look at education as a means of income.

 After 1836, based on the recommendation of the Colebrook Commission, the British Government commenced the fee-levying English medium schooling system and established a few schools in the main cities. Those were limited to well-to-do people in central cities and people who could afford to attend those schools. Most Tamil and Sinhala ordinary children who lived in rural areas were deprived of English and secondary education. Education in vernacular was free due to government grants for recurrent expenses and the contribution of local well-wishers. Those schools were limited to primary and junior secondary education to improve literacy, basic writing, and reading skills. Therefore, students at vernacular schools had no opportunity for secondary education and higher education in English.

Under the colonial regime, Catholic and Christian communities enjoyed a privileged position in education. For instance, by 1939, while Catholics and Christians were only 6.3% of the country’s population, they received 73.7% of the government grants for Assisted Schools.  Schools for Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims, who accounted for 93.7 % of the population, received only 26.8 % of government grants. English, the language of the colonial masters, was the language of administration. The primary purpose of the then education system was to produce the workforce required for the colonial administration, inculcate English cultural values, and increase the awareness of the British Empire among ordinary citizens.

Reputed schools established in Colombo were open to well-to-do people of all ethnic groups (Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burger, etc.).  But, due to the locational advantage, Jaffna schools were catering mainly to the Tamil community, giving them a disproportional advantage. Under these circumstances, well-to-do Tamils enjoyed the lion’s share of the English, secondary and higher education, including medicine, law, and science.  Also, the official language of the government was English. As such, middle and senior public service positions were also staffed mainly by Tamils, significantly exceeding their proportion of the total population. For instance, “in 1956, eight years after the independence, Tamils constituted 30% of the administrative panel, 50% of the clerical personnel of the railways, postal and custom service; 60% of the doctors, engineers, and lawyers; 40% of the armed forces, and 40% of other labour forces”.( The Ethnic Conflict of Sri Lanka: A Historical and Social Outline- SasankaPerera), while their share of the population in the country was less than 11%.   However, it should not be interpreted that the entire Tamil community benefitted from the then education system. Due to social stratification, the lower strata of the Tamil community were denied even free primary education. If at all, Sinhala and Tamil-educated ordinary people could join public service mainly as minor employees. Yet, Sinhalese did not wish to join many categories of government jobs (as minor employees)that were available according to their educational qualifications but did not match the social status enjoyed as farmers.

Although English was the official language, the Tamils had a minor advantage over the Sinhala community as most of the bureaucracy could speak some Tamils. If Sinhala people were to communicate their grievances to the bureaucracy, they depended on petition writers to write in English. During the colonial period, the ordinary Sinhala majority did not have the resources and opportunity to compete with the Tamil minority in public administration. Sinhala community understood it as domination by the Tamil minority over the Sinhala majority and looked enviously at the success of the Tamil minority. They could not see it as a problem of the colonial governance and education system, known as divide and rule. Until the 1960s, Sinhalese kept complaining about the Tamil over-representation in public service, especially in high-level professions such as medicine and engineering. Before the 1970s, Tamil overrepresentation in universities, especially in medicine, engineering, and science, was a primary grievance of the Sinhala community. According to the University entrance system, “Those who scored highest gain access to different faculties in universities irrespective of their district from which they came. While there was no bias inherent in this system, Tamils from Jaffna and Colombo did particularly well. For example, in the 1969-1970 intake to science and engineering courses, Tamils accounted 35%, while they accounted for over 45% of the intake of engineering and medical faculties”.  (The Ethnic Conflict of Sri Lanka: A Historical and Social Outline-SasankaPerera)

Free Education for All

The people of the then Ceylon got a reasonable share in the governance of their own country under the Donoughmore Commission Reforms in 1931.  Under these reforms, Sinhalese, the majority population, got more political power than other communities. Against this backdrop, they launched various campaigns to wield the power of Sinhala politicians to get a due share in education and public administration.

Under DrC.W.W.Kannangara, the Executive Committee on Education of the State Council of Ceylon took the initiative to establish a free education system for all. Based on the recommendation of this committee, the Free Education bill was introduced in the State Council in 1943, and approval was granted to implement it effective from 1st October 1945. According to this, every child above the age of 5 is entitled to free education irrespective of class, caste, or ethnicity. Also, the Language of instruction was made the SWAHBASHA (mother tongue). The decision to teach in the mother tongue may have been taken because the country lacked the capacity and resources to provide universal and equal access to education at all levels in the English medium. At that time, only about 7% of the population was literate in English. But the country had adequate capacity to provide education in vernacular. Also, both Sinhala and Tamil were well-developed languages used as mediums of instruction for oriental studies. Many people, as a passion or due to ignorance, blame S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike for changing the medium of instruction from English to Sinhala, but he has nothing to do with it. However, his patriotic movement created more enthusiasm for Sinhala as it was the official language. The use of Vernacular in secondary education was a baby of Kannangara, introduced along with the Central College system. Accordingly, changing the medium of instruction from English to vernacular in universities necessitated an automatic process during the Bandaranaike period.

Secondary Education for Rural Poor

The system of Central Colleges, introduced by Minister Kannangara, was commenced and modelled on Colombo Royal College. The program was to establish one such school in each electorate with hostel facilities in different areas of the country outside main cities but in central locations to provide secondary education in Sinhala and Tamil mediums. At the inception, students at Central Colleges were given a good English education, enabling them to proceed with higher education in English. The initiative of Minister Kannangarawas a turning point and a revolutionary step in the Ceylon education system, which was hitherto limited to the well-to-do people of the main cities. The system was further strengthened by providing scholarships to study in central colleges for poor but clever students of remote primary and junior secondary schools, enabling them to cover the cost of food and logging, clothes, textbooks, etc. As a result, many Sinhala and Tamil students in less privileged areas and less privileged families got secondary and higher education opportunities. The free education system and the establishment of the central college system reduced the imbalances in ethnic composition, rural-urban composition, and rich-poor composition in secondary and higher education and public service to a certain extent. However, the number of such schools was limited to 54 and could not significantly change the existing ethnic composition of the enrolment in Secondary and higher education and public service. As the public service was rapidly expanding, this marginal increase in educated people did not affect the Tamil and Sinhala elites. Hence there was no visible objection to the reform.

Free Education for AllBecameAReality and A Responsibility Of The Government

Assisted Schools and Training Colleges (Special Provisions) Act passed in 1960; was an Act that enabled the government to take over the ownership and management of many schools and training colleges managed by non-governmental organisations and private parties.  There was a big protest by the catholic organisation against the takeover of schools by the government. But the poor segment of the Catholics supported the move as their children would benefit immensely from the free education system. The Act was passed in the parliament with 60-member majority votes. However, United National Party and Federal Party, which represented Sinhala and Tamil elites voted against this Act. Under this Act, the government took over many schools that belonged to the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka and schools that the Buddhist Theosophical Society managed. After implementing the above Act, the Free Education Ordinance- of 1943 became a reality. It practically ensured free education for all Sri Lankan children in their mother tongue, regardless of ethnicity, class, caste, and other socioeconomic differences. Since then, free education has become the government’s responsibility and children’s right.It ensures free education for any Sri Lankan child from kindergarten to a university degree. This means that every Sri Lankan, by birth or registration, endows full insurance coverage for education.

Along with these initiatives, in addition to the hitherto existing limited number of Central Colleges,manyMahaVidyalayas (like central colleges but without hostels) were established/upgraded all over the country, catering to all rural areas to teach up to the university entrance level in the mother tongue. To facilitate this process, the medium of instruction in universities also changed from English to the mother tongue (Sinhala and Tamil). Also, before this, two new universities Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara) were established, which enabled it to accommodate the increasing number of undergraduates coming from newly established Mahavidyalayas.

Equal Access

Before the 1960 forms, most poor Sinhalese, Muslims, and Tamils were educationally backward.In the early 1960s, parallel to the expansion of Sinhala and Tamil Schools for secondary education, the number of Muslim schools increased for primary and secondary education. The minimum academic qualification to recruit teachers during this period was GCE (O/L). But the Muslim community did not have an adequate number of people with minimum qualifications then. The minimum qualification criteria were relaxed in appointing teachers to Muslim schools to overcome this vacuum. Without the said special preference, it would have been impossible to trigger off education among poor Muslims.

However, at the inception, there was no adequate number of qualified teachers and other facilities in newly established/upgraded MahaVidyalayas.Therefore, the quality of education in these schools was much lower than in Central Colleges and reputed urban colleges. Further, most of these schools did not have facilities for science education. As such, university entrance from these MahaVidyalayas was limited to arts streams. They could not send students to universities to be qualified as doctors, engineers, scientists, accountants, or other professionals.

Educated Unemployed Youths as a Pressure Group

Regardless of various constraints, many students from less privileged areas and families became graduates qualified in art subjects. Most of them could not find gainful employment according to their expectations. Though university education is free, students who entered universities from low-income families were faced with numerous problems in financing the cost of food and lodging, transport, teaching aids, etc. Very often; their parents were indebted to fund those expenses and compelled to compromise the education of other children in the same family. Towards the late1960s, there was a large backlog of unemployed graduates. They became a dynamic and knowledgeable but frustrated lot, creating a new socio-economic and political problem. This was a more serious issue among the Sinhala community than among the Tamils. Still, the Tamil elites enjoyed a significant share of science education. As such, they felt the problem very little and were not bothered about the unemployment of art graduates from less privileged families. Moreover, due to the solid social stratification in the northern area, unemployed Tamil graduates did not have a social environment conducive to becoming a powerful pressure group to bargain with politicians or the government for jobs. They were voiceless at the regional as well as national levels. Even in those days, Northern politicians did not live in their constituency with the community, and there was a wide gap between political leaders and constituents. Despite that,Tamil political leaders did not want to see and did not allow the youth to understand that unemployment among educated youth is a national problem. Instead, they interpreted it as discrimination against Tamils and an ethnicity-related issue. They used the national crisis to justify a separate Tamil Country within Sri Lanka.

However, unemployed Sinhala graduates agitated against the then government, requesting a resolution for the graduate unemployment. They became an organised major political force in the late 1960s, and their pressure on the political leaders increased. During the 1970 General election campaign, United Front, led by Sri Lanka Freedom Party, pledged to resolve this burning socio-economic issue if they came into power. Against this backdrop, that party was supported by unemployed graduates, parents, and university academic staff. United Front won the general election and came into power with an overwhelming majority. Meanwhile, the Tamil leadership was preparing their youths to agitate for a separate state to resolve core problems, including unemployment.

To be continued

A very happy New Year 2023 to Sri Lanka and its people

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I am writing from Dhaka, Bangladesh. I wish a very happy New Year 2023 to Sri Lanka and its people.

In the New Year-2023, Sri Lankans will need to put extra efforts together, to reignite the economy and promote growth and also to make it inclusive and beneficial to all. They will also need to intensify investment in education in 2023. They must work together to eradicate corruption, crimes, drugs and substance abuse as well as violence against people in their communities. Where they disagree, let them do so with dignity and respect and promote unity and cohesion as they build their country together. The challenge now is to continue to pursue the economic and political conditions that will spread the wealth throughout the population and provide an example for the rest of the world. They must work harder to build a truly caring society in 2023.

Despite all the success the country has achieved in recent years including 2022, new and old dangers – economic, political, and security-related – threaten to derail its progress. With sound policymaking, effective leadership, and enough foresight, however, can meet and defeat these challenges as well as the many more to come in the New Year. They probably use the beginning of every year to reflect on the past years, make decisions and set resolutions for the New Year. It is a good thing to make resolutions, but it takes a good deal of discipline and commitment to get results that would be different and better than what they got last year. Catherine Pulsifer wrote, “The New Year symbolizes the ending of one year and the beginning of yet another. We celebrate this event, yet it is only a moment in time, like any other day. But it is also considered a time when new beginnings can happen. Be determined to have a Happy New Year!” 

In the New Year’s foresight, Sri Lanka’s growth initiatives may be overarching themes that place the country at the tipping point and people perceive to be key areas for intervention to keep Sri Lanka on its current rising trajectory. This year’s format is different from years past, encompassing viewpoints from high-level policymakers, academics, and practitioners, as well as utilising visuals to better illustrate the paths behind and now in front of Sri Lanka. Growth in Asia and elsewhere has shown that industrialisation is crucial to job creation, a value that has to be enshrined in the new sustainable development goals of Sri Lanka.

The country has witnessed remarkable improvements in poverty reduction in recent years, but persistent challenges in inequality, education, health, and violence, among others, still plague it. As the 2023 year may provide the opportunity to be a jumping-off point for strong policies and efforts to accomplish the desired goals, they should understand the assortment of opportunities of 2022 provides for supporting human development efforts and argues for the central role that better data and corrective measures play in addressing them.

To explore the consequences of Sri Lanka’s rapid urbanisation which historically has facilitated the country transition from a reliance on agriculture to industry and jobs. However, without strong policies to deliver services, finance and build infrastructure, and support the urban poor, the country’s rapidly growing cities and intermediate cities cannot deliver on their potentials. The New Year may see a number of governance milestones and obstacles, and the march towards good governance. Any sort of violence, killing and destruction… shall have to be ruthlessly suppressed by the law and order controlling body of the government. People want peace and that has to be ensured. People do not want the banal forces and their mango-twigs to get any chance to fish out any benefits in the troubled waters. Raise your voice. Beware of that the ruffians must not get any chance to disturb them because Sri Lanka is for Sri Lanka’s people of all religions to live together in peace. 

The government should reflect on the country’s growth-governance puzzle and the complex institutional changes necessary to move from economic growth to economic transformation. Historically, urbanisation is a sign of economic prosperity. As a country underwent structural transformation, and its economy shifted from agriculture to manufacturing and industry, the composition of the population of the country shifted from being predominantly rural to predominantly urban. However, urbanisation in the Sri Lanka’s context displays different characteristics from the ones witnessed in Asia and other countries. This growth demonstrates a great need for better urban management and institution building. Thus, if managed properly, the new emerging cities can produce several economic opportunities as cities offer economies of scale, which can be conducive to sustainable economic prosperity and improved human development. 

Despite all the political and economic challenges facing the country, the people’s desire for a better life with better education for their children, strong domestic institutions, full employment opportunities and faster economic growth means that the future can be much brighter. Many of the hurdles they may uncover have policy solutions. Government should spend primarily on the work to improve not just education systems but also infrastructure across the board. Smart, pro-business policies will also help ensure the creation of decent jobs that can keep young people engaged in society and out of troubles.

Despite challenges on the economic front, together they made substantial progress in providing basic services, such as, electricity, housing, roads, water and sanitation, healthcare as well as accessible education. The country’s GDP has begun to show welcome improvements. Thus significant strides were made in the past years in fighting poverty, inequality and unemployment. Still the government needs for renewed efforts to boost inclusive economic growth and improve the lives of poor and working-class; and it remains a key priority of the government.

The mornings of winter fall on the last of the fogbank and will wash it away. We can smell the grass again, and the torn leaves being eased down into the mud.  The few loves we have been allowed to keep are still sleeping on the sky of Sri Lanka. Here in the country, they walk across the fields with only a few young cows for company. Big-boned and shy, they are like girls we remember. Those girls are matured now. Like Sri Lankans, they must sometimes stand at a window late at night, looking out on a silent backyard, at one rusting lawn chair and the sheer walls of other people’s houses.

They must lie down some afternoons and cry hard for whoever used to make them happiest, and wonder how their lives have carried them this far without ever once explaining anything. They don’t know why they are walking out here with their coats darkening and their boots sinking in, coming up with a mild sucking sound we, as foreigners, like to hear. We don’t care where those girls are now.  Whatever they have made of it they can have. Today, Sri Lankans want to resolve many things. They only want to walk a little longer in the cold blessing of the wind, and lift their faces to it.

Emotions and excitement will be lifted up inside eyes and mouth widely grinning hands clap together anticipation rising going through the whole body. As we, foreigners, wait for the sunrise, we wait for a shimmering blue sea in Sri Lanka. We shall see a beautiful golden sun. And we believe it will set them free. We put our pens down greatness without sound; love without a doubt and a heart unbound; freedom of tongues is freedom of minds; and free air is freedom of lungs. We smoke though, temporary satisfaction for eternal sorrow; one more drag; confidence to load the mag up against our heads, we then resurrect ourselves with memories of something else in Sri Lanka. So, we as foreigners are grinding again, making our way up the lane, but the cities big so we take a… Melody Beattie reminds us, “The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals.”

With the moon as the conductor, the symphony of lights begins. As the heavens open in anticipation, stars one by one comes filing in with each rhythmic starlight flicker keeping in tune with the galaxy. Entire planets hold their breath in wonder from everlasting to everlasting nebula breeze. It all plays out in harmony keeping perfect 3-4 times and such beauty is not held by boundaries and seen and heard light years through time. The year 2023 should be to do only good deeds for Sri Lanka.

The winds of bearable and golden-like and sweet-note are on the heads of Sri Lankans. The winds of civility and refinements having good or auspicious marks; of commendable looks… good governance…gentleness of disposition…exquisite beauty or grace…quite consistence; very reasonable; judicious; fair; adequate; relevant; well-refined life shall prevail in their days; and I wish our Sri Lankan friends, and people in general a glorified and restful festive season. Celebrate new life in the New Year 2023. From Bangladesh, I wish to finish-off today in the words of Goran Persson, “Let your New Year’s resolution be this: you will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.”

The End –

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